Provost combines two service groups and considers new minor

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February 13, 2009

12:57 AM

The College of William and Mary will combine its two major service programs — the Office of Volunteer Services (OSVS) and the Sharpe Community Scholars Program — and consider creating a Community Studies minor, Provost Geoff Feiss announced at the Feb. 5 Board of Visitors meeting.

The merger will begin in April of this year and the program will move into Blow Hall this summer. OSVS director Drew Stelljes and Sharpe Community Scholars director Monica Griffin will bring their respective programs together to become the Office of Community Engagement and Scholarship (OCES).

Feiss met with a committee of campus representatives last semester to discuss the possibility of organizing a program that would pull together a number of activities in which students participated beyond campus.

“The Civic Engagement Writing Group took a long look at all our activities in the realm of volunteer services, service learning, the Sharpe Program, service learning trips both domestic and international, and the national conversation on civic engagement and scholarship,” Feiss said. “This merger of function was one of their recommendations.”

Though the two programs have different purposes, they shared many common goals, particularly promoting service among students.

“Collectively, the group shared current experiences and developed a vision for expanding and connecting our practices to external partners in more meaningful ways,” Griffin said.

The Sharpe Community Scholars program is a freshman group that focuses on service learning in the hope that students will continue service throughout their time at the College. By combining this with the OSVS, Griffin said that the result will be a “greater collaboration between offices and more efficient management of the students’ ordinary paths between direct volunteer experiences — both domestic and abroad.”

Stelljes said the one important aspect of combining the two programs is the resulting Community Studies minor.

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

Joel Schwartz, associate professor and director of the Charles Center, said the idea for a Community Studies minor is based on an extension of the Sharpe Community Scholars.

“Since the Sharpe program is a freshman service-based program, we wanted something that would continue beyond freshman year,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz explained how students interested would take an introductory course that would focus on community-based learning. After that, the student would pick a policy area to focus on for the rest of their classes.

There would be two core courses, called the Scope of Community Studies and Methods of Community Studies, and two related courses in a chosen policy area in addition to a senior research project.

Schwartz said the point of the minor is not to get credit for doing community service.

“The idea of this program is that students are doing projects in the community that augment learning,” Schwartz said. “They’re not getting credit for service, but rather credit for research.”

Though other schools may have minors similar to Community Studies, Schwartz said the research project aspect of the program was unique to the College.

Griffin said that she had seen many students at the College pursue their interest in service activities and carry those experiences with them after college.

“I find that many of the students that I encounter are at a stage of careful consideration for the purpose, meaning, and productivity of their engagement,” Griffin said. “Many students are using their experiences — both academic and community-based — to form identities, make career choices, and actively engage their world.”

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