According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, volunteer rates are the lowest among 20-24 year olds. In the last year, 62.6 million Americans provided service to their community, out of which only 18.5 percent were college students. To help benefit the community, the University needs to foster a culture encouraging more service opportunities by incorporating service learning in their curriculum.
Service learning is a teaching method in which students learn concepts by volunteering in the community. That is, instead of sitting in a classroom and listening to a professor lecture, they learn through experiences. The difference is that these experiences take place while the students volunteer in their community. According to the UT Longhorn Center for Civic Engagement, approximately 60 courses this year offered some component of service learning — a strikingly small number. Judging from the low number of service learning courses offered, these courses are not considered a priority among administrators, but they should be.
Currently, I am a part of the Accounting Practicum class in which the students file free tax returns for people in disadvantaged communities. On the first day, my professor, Dr. Doug deVidal, mentioned that one out of seven students said this class was the best and most meaningful class they had ever taken at UT. Most professors dream of having such a high positive response for a class.
The class has certainly taught me about accounting, but more importantly, it has taught me that the service learning model works by encouraging students to learn about civic engagement. Rather than sitting through lectures, students are motivated to learn because they see how they can do something positive with the knowledge they master. Before this class, I did not know about the W2, the basic tax document, but I learned so I could help people at the tax centers. These courses encourage students to gain a deeper level of understanding of the material at hand because they are encouraged to care about the results their knowledge achieves.
In service learning, mastering the coursework serves not just us but others as well. We all want to change the world. Service learning takes advantage of this desire while motivating us to learn.
I know we are all capable of being leaders in the community and being the change we wish to see. Why doesn’t the administration acknowledge that and incorporate more service learning classes in the curriculum?
Sundaram is a business honors, finance and international relations sophomore from Austin.