Introductory calculus, general chemistry, English 101 — at one point or another, every college student has to go through the required core academic subjects. Theoretically, these are required because they provide us with the essential tools we need to understand and work in the world, but many of us would claim that there are one or two other subjects every student should study in order to develop a well-rounded education. Philosophy, maybe? Or computer science, perhaps? Others would say dance or art history. But what about a class on service?
Last month I talked with Rachel Vaughn, who directs the Carlson Leadership and Public Service Center at the University of Washington. Over the course of our conversation, she told me, “What keeps me up at night is that someone can graduate from this university without doing service.”
“What keeps me up at night is that someone can graduate from this university without doing service.” -Rachel Vaughn
Rachel voiced this concern not from a feeling that students have a duty to give back to their communities or because they should have more gratitude for the opportunities in their lives, but because she believes that service is a vital piece of students’ education. The approach at the Carlson Center emphasizes that students aren’t volunteering to be the saviors of a community. Rather, students volunteer in order to learn from the communities in which they serve. Rachel explains that, “The students aren’t going to change the organization. They will learn during the 10-week process to motivate them to become a change agent later.” That’s where the power of service lies in a student’s education.
Just as science, math, and English equip students with tools to understand and operate in the world, service provides them with the experience and inspiration to make a positive impact in the world, to see problems, and create solutions. Educators host science fairs to get students excited about what chemistry and engineering can offer the world. They organize poetry contests and debates to show students the power of words. They bring influential speakers from all over the world to build global perspectives. But service often falls in as an afterthought, something outside of the central curriculum. We at Serve Smart believe service has the potential to be so much more. The lessons to be gained from volunteering are powerful and relevant, teaching students the importance of not only learning about the world, but learning from it.