IUPUI's Center for Service and Learning cultivates a culture of student engagement

A student shovels mulchView print quality image
An IUPUI student shovels mulch as part of the 2017 César Chávez Day of Service. Photo by Liz Kaye, Indiana University

The IUPUI Center for Service and Learning and its opportunities to enrich the Indianapolis community have grown steadily through the decades, with programs earning national and international recognition. Today, community engagement is ingrained in the student culture. Four major days of service are highlights on the IUPUI academic calendar, including the upcoming César Chávez Day.

IUPUI days of service

The IUPUI Center for Service and Learning hosts Jaguars in the Streets events as well.

As part of IUPUI's 50th Anniversary celebration, an IUPUI Day of Service has been planned for April 5. Several park and garden projects, along with cleanup and improvements at a Near West community center and food pantry, have been planned.

All staff, faculty and students are invited to participate. The day will kick off with a breakfast in Tower Ballroom, and the service projects are expected to generally last until 12:30 p.m. Staff members interested in using their volunteer paid leave may want to review the policy.

Staff and faculty have the opportunity to register individually or as a team.

Ian Burke, a senior studying biochemistry, got involved with his community quickly. A student mentor for the scholarship students working to plan the day of service, Burke believes the experience is essential not only to making his community a better place but also to improving his professional skills.

"I plan on applying to medical school," Burke said. "Professional skills, time management and leadership are all things I've learned in community service, and all are needed in medicine."

Burke will serve as a student leader during the March 30 César Chávez Day of Service. Hundreds of students will engage with nonprofit organizations throughout the day. There is still time to register to be part of the event.

César Chávez is considered a hero for farm laborers and is hailed as one of the greatest American civil rights leaders. The campus also celebrates his legacy with a student-organized dinner.

While the 2018 César Chávez Day saw an unexpected 10 inches of snow dumped onto the city, the 2019 edition will still focus on outdoor projects. Students will be planting trees and weeding for organizations like Indy Urban Acres, Fletcher Place Community Center and the Willard Park Community Garden. Burke will lead his fellow students in setting up summer camp tents for the Girl Scouts at Camp Dellwood.

A culture of service

As a member of a fraternity and the Honors College, Burke had to satisfy requirements for community service hours, but students wanting to further their service with communities have found a special outlet in the Center for Service and Learning.

"I just connected with being able to do something positive for the community," Burke explained. "The impact is a big thing for me."

The Sam H. Jones Community Service Scholarship Program was established in 1999. Students like Burke interact with community organizations, lead projects, write about their experiences, and lead reflective and educational dialogue with their peers on-site. Burke said most of his fellow Jaguars are drawn to deeper community-engagement experiences after their first service day experience.

"At the end of the day," Burke added, "I try to drive home the message: 'Yeah, you got your service hours, but did you get anything else?'"

Taking service to work

Burke believes his community-based experiences will apply to his post-IUPUI career. He's learned project management and programming skills to go along with his biochemistry degree.

"I plan on getting involved with nonprofits during my professional life," he said. "A lot of the concepts I've learned from here, I'll take with me to whatever I do. I think it would be my responsibility to continue to help my community."

And Burke believes that culture of service will continue at IUPUI for another 25 years or more: "I see a lot of students engaging with the community and realizing they can be a part of it."