Q: Why does community engagement matter in the experience of Suffolk students?
Kelly: Suffolk is in an excellent position to focus on each student’s holistic educational experience. Community engagement can provide each student an important opportunity to grow intellectually and personally. That includes engagement in various kinds of non-profit-focused initiatives that are tied directly to an academic course (service learning) as well as engagement in the community that is not linked to a course or academic program per se.
Such experiences give students the opportunity to engage with people who may be different from themselves. It gives them experience in the world that is much broader than we can give them on campus alone. It offers the opportunity to think about non-profit careers as a potential path for professional development. And it helps students to see pathways toward productive engagement as citizens of the world that they hopefully will carry with them beyond their time here at Suffolk.
Q: Have your own experiences with community engagement shaped that viewpoint?
Kelly: In a sense, yes, but most of those experiences were very much later in life. When I was a student I actually did not take advantage of these kinds of opportunities, and the reality is community engagement as a major part of what happened in colleges or even high schools wasn’t as prominent when I was growing up. As a kid I was a Girl Scout, involved in cleanup drives and similar activities, but nothing that I would say was transformational. One of the reasons I value this as a part of the educational experience for our students is that when I look back on my college experience, I see it as something from which I would have benefited.. The opportunity was probably available but it wasn’t anything that was promoted or seen as a part of the overall educational experience. When I look back and see that missing piece, it furthers my commitment to ensure it is available and promoted among our students. Later, I had the opportunity to engage professionally in a different kind of community service, primarily through service on non-profit boards, I became much more attuned to it personally.
Q: How can service learning be better integrated into the curriculum?
Kelly: We have a goal in our current strategic plan of having experiential learning as a required part of every student’s degree path. That means in many cases internships in corporate or government offices or in health care facilities, among many other options. But it can also absolutely mean various kinds of experiences that fall under the community engagement umbrella. Right now we are working to gain faculty approval across the schools on a single definition for a service learning course. I’m hopeful that will be approved. Once we do that, then it makes it easier to encourage faculty to develop and offer those service learning courses.
Q: Do you view service learning as something that should be school specific or something that works across the University?
Kelly: This is something important that we must promote as an institution across traditional school and program division lines. A student can major in one school and take a course and be engaged in a very different kind of service learning project in another school. Other community engagement opportunities might be program or school specific, and that is fine also. Being one university does not mean being uniform in all that we do. In this case it’s about the university as a whole supporting this as a significant part of a student’s educational experience while they are here.