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University's volunteer office gets results
Free Press editorial
Minnesota State Mankato gives students a chance to learn in more ways than one, and its service-learning programs benefit both students and the community.
An editorial in The Free Press, Mankato, MN, 3/13/2006
You can sit in a lecture hall and be fed statistics that prove the working poor are struggling to feed themselves. Or you can pack up food for the less fortunate and see firsthand that for some people the choice is between buying gas for the car and fuel for the body.Minnesota State University gives students a chance to learn in more ways than one about the world around them. The university is doing such a good job of giving students hands-on learning opportunities that the Student Leadership Development and Service Learning Department has received national recognition. The department has won the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators' Student Affairs Professionals Best Practices Award.That's a mouthful, but it boils down to this: MSU students are learning by serving others, and the community is benefiting as a result.Student involvement in the community is not a new concept. Young people often have volunteered in their campus towns. Even the more formalized service learning concept in which an office helps coordinate student volunteers has been at MSU for about a dozen years.What is exciting to see is that more students are getting involved and more faculty members are folding service learning into their curriculum. For example, Project Apple involves business students who are coordinating an apple collection and will donate the fruit to Campus Kitchens. Campus Kitchens, a new and successful project taken on by the service learning office, takes unused food from MSU residence halls and distributes it to the area's hungry. As of February more than 500 students signed up to volunteer, and thousands of meals were distributed.Other projects that have been born of the service learning program include New Student Service Project, Make a Difference Day, Earth Day, Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, National Children's Book Week, Youth Activity Fair, The Sound of Reading literacy project and Dr. Seuss' Birthday/ literacy event and the JumpStart tutoring program. This week service learning students also are helping with relief efforts in hurricane-ravaged New Orleans. Not only are the students able to take pride in knowing they've helped out, but Student Leadership Office Director Kelly Meier said studies point to a 75 percent increase in information retention when students learn by doing versus learning by lecture. The opportunities for helping will never fade and having a 16,000-student population of potential volunteers is definitely an asset to the community. It's encouraging to know that so many of tomorrow's leaders will have experience in reaching out to others.