Community Partner FAQs

Below are frequently asked questions to help you begin the careful planning process for a successful service-learning experience.

How does service-learning differ from community service?

If you think of service-learning as a three-piece puzzle, community service is one piece of the puzzle. The adjoining pieces are enhanced academic learning and purposeful civic learning (as illustrated in the Venn diagram on the homepage). In a service-learning context, the community service piece is strategically designed by the community partner and the faculty member to be both relevant and meaningful to you, the faculty member you are working with, and the students who will be the service-learners. This may or may not be the case with community service that is not a part of service-learning.

Jeffrey Howard’s Service-Learning Course Design Workbook establishes the following three criteria for community service that is part of a service-learning experience:

  1. The service must be relevant, both to the community and the course learning objectives, by contributing to the amelioration of some social issue and/or improving the quality of life in the community.
  2. The service must be meaningful, involving students in activities that the community deems appropriate and necessary for its purpose and that the faculty member deems appropriate to course learning objectives.
  3. The service must be developed with the community, rather than for or to the community.

As a community partner you can work with faculty to design community service experiences that are meaningful and relevant to both of you and to the students engaging in the service. The faculty member you are working with is additionally responsible to ensure that the other “puzzle pieces” are present, that is enhanced student academic and civic learning, through methods including ongoing classroom reflection on the service experience. Through prompting students to actively reflect on the service experience, faculty help students consider the experience in light of their course learning.

What are the benefits associated with service-learning?

Service-learning is geared toward transformative work rather than charity work. Research shows that service-learning, when done well, can offer a number of benefits to communities, including to:

  • Help meet community needs through additional human and intellectual resources
  • Expose and connect community partners to university resources and opportunities
  • Build sustainable partnerships with faculty who are conducting research relevant to community problems
  • Provide an opportunity for the community to educate faculty, staff, and students, thus preparing them for more sincere and informed citizenship
  • Provide a platform for community members to disseminate information and promote services
  • Create an environment where new ideas and perspectives can be shared
  • Provide free marketing for volunteer opportunities as students share their experiences with classmates and friends
  • Create opportunities to network with colleagues in other organizations and agencies

Are there risks associated with service-learning? While every worthwhile endeavor entails some level of risk, it is important to adequately prepare for and manage risks to yourself and the organization you represent before having students engage in service-learning. UT Service-Learning encourages faculty to use the three-step approach described on the Risk Management page as you work together to plan the service. Check to see if your organization has a similar resource to help guide you in preventing and managing risks.

UT requires students working with vulnerable populations (e.g. the homeless, the physically and/or mentally disabled, rape survivors, children, and the elderly) in a service-learning context to purchase liability insurance prior to engaging in service; however, if you have additional procedures that are required of your volunteers, please let your faculty partner know in order to prepare students. UTSL believes in mutually beneficial, healthy partnerships that enhance student learning and community organization effectiveness, and invite questions and discussions on how to better do so. Contact us if you would like to further discuss risk management.

Who is served by service-learning?

Service-learning has now become a common practice in higher education and has the capability to transform all who are involved. We know more data needs to be collected on community member experiences with service-learning and community impact, but we fundamentally believe that public higher education is responsible for contributing to the betterment of society. When done in a thoughtful, reciprocal, and continuous way, service-learning serves everyone.

If I don’t partner for a semester or more, is my organization still eligible to partner again?

Absolutely! We are aware that an organization’s capacity to host service-learners changes from year to year. We expect our community partners’ needs to change as the community itself fluctuates, and we understand that committing to service-learning may not be feasible all of the time. This does not disqualify you from future service-learning partnerships or opportunities.

How do I report a concern or emergency issue?

You and your faculty partner should work together to develop a protocol for discussing concerns and reporting emergencies; however, if your concern or issue is better addressed by UTSL then please contact us at 865-974-9577 or servicelearning@utk.edu. We provide confidential guidance to help you and other parties resolve concerns and deal with emergency issues.

How do I find the right faculty and/or students to work with for service-learning?

Finding the right faculty partner depends on you identifying the needs of your organization and how service-learners can help you meet those needs. UTSL can help you find the right partner by communicating your organization’s partnership opportunity to our faculty network. Upon finding a faculty partner, completing the Standard MOC or Expanded MOC with your partner can facilitate purposeful planning and a quality partnership.

Finding the right students can be done with the help of your faculty partner (assuming the service experience is not a whole-class project. If it is for the entire class, you can determine whether you would like to host the class, and if so, what conditions or screening process applies). Your faculty partner can assist you with determining which students’ interests, skill sets, and experience are a proper match for your organization. Depending on your intake process for volunteers, you also may request an internal screening process to interview students before selecting them. Again, these details should be established with your faculty partner beforehand.

What is the best way to communicate with UTSL or my faculty partner?

UTSL responds most quickly to email, but we also will follow up on phone messages within two business days. UT faculty generally communicate best through email as well; however, we recommend that you and your faculty partner determine during your planning process how best to communicate. UTSL recommends that you exchange phone, email, and other relevant contact information that would help when issues or emergencies arise; however, you may also contact us for assistance.

What information would be helpful to provide to faculty and students before service-learning begins?

Some key items you should strive to provide to faculty and students are contact information for your organization, including a staff point person; a welcome packet for volunteers or some other type of information detailing the history, mission, client-base, and goals of your organization; and a list of essential procedures and guidelines for working with your agency or organization. Additional information can be added as well to help your faculty partner and the students to better understand your organization and what their roles will be in contributing to the fulfillment of the organization’s mission.

What happens at the end of the service?

Before departing service at your organization, students may have requirements to complete, such as their service projects, evaluations, reports, or essays. These requirements will vary across classes and is best addressed by your faculty partner. If the students are creating a product or conducting research for your organization, you may want to negotiate with your faculty partner what you will receive upon completion of the service.

At the end of the semester you also may be asked to complete an evaluation of the service-learners you hosted, or of the partnership experience.

What if I don’t need service learners, but I do need volunteers?

You do not need to partner with a faculty member if you are simply seeking students to volunteer at your organization. To inquire about having students volunteer at your site independent of a course, please contact the Center for Leadership and Service.

What types of service can students do for my agency or organization?

Service-learning can take on many forms. The most common are direct service, indirect service, advocacy, and community-based research. Colorado State University Service-Learning provides an excellent set of definitions and examples of these terms.
Students can also do capacity building or development work, both of which refer to work that enhances your organization’s ability to affect change and meet organizational goals. This type of service can take the form of students helping to develop strategic plans, fundraising strategies, training manuals for staff or incoming volunteers, grant writing, marketing strategies, or staff trainings on how to do these activities themselves.