Community Engagement and Service-Learning at USF

Community engagement and service-learning are at the core of USF’s vision to educate “leaders who will fashion a more humane and just world.”

As someone who has been volunteering and participating in service learning throughout my life, I came into this class expecting to have similar experiences to those in my childhood. Yet this service learning experience was unlike any I had been through before, and the deep level of analysis throughout the semester was far more than I had ever addressed.  I learned things about myself, my team, my community partner, the community they serve, and l was able to explore a new social justice issue in the non-profit world.
– Student, Management and Organizational Dynamics Service-Learning Course

What is Community Engagement?

Community Engagement at the University of San Francisco, a Jesuit Catholic institution, is the development of sustained and authentic partnerships between the university and its diverse city, state, national, and global communities for the reciprocal exchange of knowledge, skills, and resources.

Community engagement can take many forms: service-learning, community service, participatory research and scholarship that makes the university relevant to the community, training and technical assistance, and other activities that promote the shared interests of community partners and lead to transformational experiences for faculty, staff, and students. Community engagement at the University of San Francisco prepares educated and committed women and men who are concerned about society at large and particularly those who are poor, unprotected, and neglected. By addressing critical societal issues at home and abroad, students, faculty, and staff contribute to the common good and to changing the world. 

What is Service-Learning?

Service-Learning is a pedagogical method that engages students in organized service activities and guided reflection. The service activities benefit the client or community and, in combination with reflection, enhance the academic knowledge and skills of participating students.

In accordance with the University of San Francisco’s Vision and Mission, service-learning promotes interaction with diverse communities and organizations in order to help students and faculty develop the knowledge, skills, and sensitivities to be effective agents of social change. Service-learning is distinct from acts of charity because it is reciprocal: students, faculty, and community organizations teach and learn through their interactions. Teaching and learning are informed by the realities of the world, and service is informed by theoretical and conceptual understanding.

Service-learning is one example of a wide range of community-engaged pedagogies that guide students to construct their own understanding of disciplinary content and develop their world view through a combination of direct interaction with the broader community and traditional scholarly endeavors.

The Service-Learning Undergraduate Core Requirement

At USF, service-learning is an integral part of the undergraduate Core Curriculum. According to the Undergraduate Core Curriculum Proposal adopted by USF’s Board of Trustees in 2002, all USF service-learning courses must meet the following five criteria:

  1. Mandatory Participation: The service-learning experience is mandatory for all students enrolled in the section. The number of required hours for a service-learning activity may vary by course and discipline, but must meet or exceed the minimum of 20 hours.
  2. Academic Connections: The service activity is relevant to the course content and is integral to the students' achievement of course learning outcomes.
  3. Value-added Service: Faculty and students collaborate with community partners to develop and implement service activities that meet community-identified needs and expectations while also providing robust learning experiences for students.
  4. Reflection: Courses must include guided reflection to link course concepts and theories with "real world" experience, analyze pervasive social issues in light of engagement with community, and examine how service experiences shape values and commitments.
  5. Assessment: Course learning outcomes should reflect the necessary role of the service experience. Faculty should conduct ongoing assessment of the degree to which students meet course learning outcomes and community partners' expectations.

Additionally, service-learning courses must meet seven general learning outcomes, developed collaboratively by a committee of USF faculty and administrators in compliance with WSCUC (formerly WASC) standards.  Accordingly, students in service-learning courses will:

  • Discover how to apply and extend what is learned in the classroom while addressing the needs and issues of the community agency that hosts the service learning experience.
  • Analyze their own beliefs, values, assumptions and identities while learning about the beliefs, voices and values of others.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the extent to which all individuals share the need to be ethically engaged in furthering the welfare of their communities.
  • Demonstrate the ability to properly identify the demographic characteristics, socio-cultural dynamics, needs and strengths of a group or community
  • Reflect on the personal and academic impact of their experiences with a community or agency.
  • Demonstrate learning from multiple sources of knowledge and an appreciation for the reciprocity between scholarly knowledge and community action.
  • Think critically and act compassionately as they promote social justice.

USF service-learning course criteria and learning outcomes can also be found in the General Catalog.

The Partnership Model: Reciprocity and Authenticity

AT USF, community-engaged learning and service-learning happen in the context of mutually beneficial partnerships between USF faculty members and community partners. “Community partner” is a broad term that may include nonprofit and government staff, community organizers and leaders, or other individuals engaging as supervisors of students while they are in the community.  

In general, USF and the Leo T. McCarthy Center strive to enact partnership practices that align with the Principles of Partnership put forth by Community-Campus Partnerships for Health.

Community Engagement and Service-Learning Resources for Faculty

Community Engagement and Service-Learning Resources for Community Partners