The University of La Verne incorporates volunteer service into its graduation requirements.

by Chris Weedon

“It’s not your blue blood, your pedigree or your college degree. It’s what you do with your life that counts.”

This quote by Habitat for Humanity founder Millard Fuller embodies the essence of the University of La Verne’s motivation for creating the Core 305: Service Learning course as a requirement for its undergraduate students.

“In 1995, the University had written a new mission statement, and one of the central values in that mission statement was community service. This emphasis on community service comes out of the school’s heritage with the Church of the Brethren. The church’s core values are based on service to the community,” says Zandra Wagoner, assistant vice president of undergraduate programs.

“At the same time, the University revised the general education to reflect this new mission statement,” Wagoner adds. “One of the requirements created was having the students do a semester of community service.”

For the past 14 years, the University of La Verne has had the Core 305: Service Learning program as a requirement in its general education curriculum. Each semester, there are anywhere from eight-12 different courses offered, with an average of 15 students per class, which comes out to roughly 150 students per semester. As part of this course, students are expected to complete 20 hours of community service at a variety of locations, which focus on several different issues including literacy, youth at risk, living with a developmental disability, and serving the community through theater. There are a total of 12 different programs in all, each with a unique emphasis and opportunity for students to expand their horizons. This equals about 3,000 hours of community service completed by La Verne students each semester.

One of the longest-running relationships for this program has been with the Hillcrest Health Center, which falls under the Aging of America course.

Despite what some may think about the program, it is not intended to force students to serve their surrounding community. It is meant to build citizenship and show the impact that volunteerism can make on an organization.

“The course is not simply about the service,” says Wagoner. “The course is meant to be an opportunity to reflect academically and personally about what it means to be a responsible citizen.”

Professor Keith Lord, who has taught the Aging of America course since the spring of 2000, reiterated Wagoner’s sentiment.

“The effect I see the course have on them (the students) is an expansion and deeper understanding of what they have to offer. They also begin to see their role in having society work—that it’s not just one way, it’s reciprocal. Some of the students have volunteer experience, but this course’s directed reflection and weekly discussion facilitates and encourages the students to allow the course to have an effect on them.”

Lord shared one student’s experience to sum up how this course affects behavior.

“One young woman was disturbed by a son who visited his mother. He would cry as he brushed his mother’s hair and rubbed her shoulders because his mother no longer recognized him. She didn’t want to continue because this made her very sad. In class, we discussed the situation, and someone suggested that she talk to him and find out why he was crying. He told the student that he thought he had been a bad son. The student told him she thought he was a good son. It was clear he loved his mother and would care for her even though she no longer knew who he was. The son was very grateful, and moved by her observation and concern.”

Despite preconceptions about the current college generation, this course proves students today continue to care about their community. “I’m really encouraged by the willingness of my students to be honest and open and vulnerable,” Lord says.