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W&M hosts national service-learning forum

Engagement experts from around the nation conducted forums at William and Mary. By Stephen Salpukas.A group of College of William and Mary students and faculty members discussed the importance of incorporating learning into civic engagement during a national forum on the future of service-learning at the College’s University Center March 10.

Sponsored by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, “Service Nation: A National Forum on the Future of Service-Learning” brought to campus some of the nation’s leaders in the fields of K-12 and higher education service learning and civic engagement. The forum was the first in a series of similar events that will be held around the country, culminating in a fall summit on national and community service sponsored by TIME Magazine.

Interim College President W. Taylor Reveley III opened the afternoon forum by recognizing the civic engagement and service-learning efforts of the College’s faculty, staff and students, including those who had recently returned from Spring Break service trips.

“William and Mary’s work in civic engagement is distinguished both by giving back to others and by very focused learning from the process of giving back,” he said. “Every day, our faculty and students explore the possibilities of what rigorous inquiry can add to engaged citizenship.”

After Reveley’s remarks, John Bridgeland, former director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, announced a special presentation. Amy Cohen, Director of Learn and Serve America, presented Reveley with the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll with Distinction award in honor of the College’s exemplary service efforts and service to disadvantaged youth. The Community Service Honor Roll is the highest federal recognition a school can achieve for its commitment to service-learning and civic engagement.

“William and Mary really comes across as an extraordinary institution,” said Cohen.

A panel comprised of student, faculty and staff leaders in civic engagement and service-learning at William and Mary discussed various aspects of current and future service efforts at the College. The panel featured Allison Anoll, a junior and Sharpe Scholar; Rob Kaplan, associated dean and director of externships for the School of Law; Judd Kennedy, a senior and 2008 Marshall Scholar; and Lynn Pelco, the Sharpe Professor of Civic Renewal. The discussion was moderated by Drew Stelljes, director of the Office of Student Volunteer Services, and Monica Griffin, director of the Sharpe Community Scholars Program.

Among other things, the panel discussed the importance of collaboration and relationship building – whether it be among faculty members, graduate and undergraduate programs or students and communities – to the growth of service-learning at the College and beyond.

Anoll said that her generation is full of “service junkies” and that they have the potential to become active and informed citizens. She said that by making service-learning a critical part of liberal arts education, students can be equipped with the skills to not just serve communities, but empower them.

“This is the purpose of civic engagement and the driving force for service-learning, and this is what we hope to do in the future at the College of William and Mary,” she said.

The event’s keynote address was provided by former U.S. Senator Harris Wofford, who helped found the Peace Corps and served as chief executive officer of the corporation that oversees AmeriCorps, Senior Corps and Learn and Serve America. Wofford called civic engagement an “invitation to invention” and challenged those at the forum to take advantage of the fact that service is now something that national leaders are interested in.

The panel of national service leaders discussed the current state of service-learning in the nation and world and efforts being made to promote it in the present and near future. The panelists included Cohen; Shelley Billig, vice president of RMC Research Corporation; Steven Culberston, president of Youth Serve America; James Kielsmeier, chief executive officer of the National Youth Leadership Council; and Vince Meldrum, president of Earth Force.

“What we’re seeing today is that the problems of the world are the problems of the world, but they know no borders, and young people today are falling in love with the problems of the world, which is critical if we’re going to advance this movement,” said Culbertson.

College Provost P. Geoffrey Feiss closed the event by challenging the attendees to make service their duty.

“What we’re talking about is bring back that wonderful old word ‘duty’ back to our students. It is their duty to serve, and it’s our duty to create the mechanism for them to serve,” he said.