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The future of engagement: OSVS and Sharpe program combine

  • Future home of the OCES
    Future home of the OCES  William & Mary's Office of Student Volunteer Services and Sharpe Community Partnerships Program will combine to become Office of Community Engagement and Scholarship, which will be located in Blow Hall. Monica Griffin and Drew Stelljes will serve as co-directors the new office.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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William & Mary’s two major service programs will merge into one, and a new minor in community studies is currently under serious discussion and has enthusiastic faculty support, Provost Geoff Feiss announced during the Board of Visitors meeting Thursday.

The Office of Student Volunteer Services and Sharpe Community Partnerships Program will combine to become Office of Community Engagement and Scholarship (OCES). The programming merger is expected to begin in April 2009, and the offices will move into one space at Blow Hall in the summer. The current directors of the two programs, Drew Stelljes (OSVS) and Monica Griffin (Sharpe), will serve as co-directors of the new office.

“As student services and academic affairs have become more professionalized in higher education over the past 30-40 years, unintentional and unfortunate barriers have arisen between these two critical components of a student’s educational experiences,” said Feiss. “Hence, it is truly wonderful to see this remarkable instance of close and continual cooperation between these two offices coming to fruition around our student’s direct engagement with the community. The dividends will ebb real and profound for all parties – students, staff, and our community partners.”

Stelljes, who was appointed to the Governor’s Advisory Board on National and Community Service in December, said that uniting the work of students affairs with coursework allowed the College to build on the strengths of each.

“The OCES will build on the strengths of a liberal education uniting engagement, community-based research, and innovative teaching methods with a deep commitment to working to solve community problems,” Stelljes said.

The new office will offer the same services that are currently available through the OSVS and Sharpe but with a few additional opportunities, including the new community studies minor once approved, which will be available to students beginning in the fall 2009 semester. The minor will provide opportunities for students and faculty to pursue collaborative research across disciplines and borders, working with communities across the Commonwealth and the globe, according to the presentation given to the Board. The program’s courses will concentrate on the concepts and principles of civic engagement and community-based research methods. The minor will also require that students take a service-learning course and continue to be involved in community engagement. An advisor will lead students in an academic plan of study that incorporates elective courses toward a Capstone or Honors Thesis.

“The OCES represents the next generation of community engagement at William and Mary,” said Stelljes. “The Community Studies minor with provide ample opportunity for students and faculty to pursue collaborative research working in communities across the Commonwealth and the globe.”

Additionally under the new office, two professorships: the Sharpe Professor of Civic Renewal and Social Entrepreneurship and the Mellon Professor of Community Studies will enhance the academic component. In addition to offering service opportunities to students and professors, the OCES will also seek to “engage alumni with a variety of opportunities -- locally and in their own communities -- to remain connected to W&M through service and mentorship,” said Stelljes.

 All of the programs offered through the OCES will be guided by the provost’s Committee on Community Engagement and Scholarship.

“In a practical sense, the merger allows us to maximize efficiencies for managing current activities and affirm support for community engagement and scholarship at all levels of academic leadership,” said Griffin. “In a visionary sense, the Office of Community Engagement and Scholarship (read: merger) holds the promise of conceptually organizing civic engagement at William and Mary according to our distinctive academic strengths, diverse student interests, and changing community needs in socially responsive and productive ways.”

Student and faculty involvement and interest in civic engagement continues to build momentum at William & Mary. Currently, William & Mary students conduct about 323,000 hours of service per year, with more than 75 percent of seniors reporting that they provide service on a weekly basis. Additionally, 90 percent of seniors indicate that they plan to continue serving following graduation. That’s compared with a 1994 study that showed 34,500 hours of service were being completed by students per year, with slightly more than 50 percent of juniors reporting having volunteered in the previous year.

The Office of Student Volunteer Services has partnerships with 90 local non-profit agencies and schools. Each year, 40 students receive funding to spend a summer involved in a significant community service activity. Currently, 19 international service trips are offered over winter, spring and summer breaks, more than any other college or university, according to Breakaway, the national alternative-break organization. Additionally, the College’s Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity has 450 members, making it the largest chapter in the country.

The College’s extensive work in community service has been frequently lauded. Just recently, the College was again named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll, an honor that serves as “recognition from the highest levels of the federal government for your commitment to service and civic engagement on your campus and in our nation,” according to a release.

Last year, Virginia Governor Timothy M. Kaine visited William and Mary to praise the College’s leadership and students for their service work, and, just a few weeks ago, he saw that work first-hand as he helped students on a Habitat for Humanity project in Petersburg, Va.
Stelljes said the merger represents the College’s deep commitment “to supporting students’ personal and intellectual development through community engagement.”

“We can hardly wait to get started,” he said.