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Learning Through Helping

A new academic honor will recognize achievements in service learning

By Steve Plever

FOR MANY YEARS, UNC Asheville students who surpassed their typical course requirements have been honored at graduation with designations like University Scholar, University Research Scholar and the Latin honors. Now the university is adding a new academic designation—one that recognizes students who made their mark by serving the community.

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CREATIVE CLEANUP: Mary Beale '12 and other Arts & Community Development students collaborated with the local Green Opportunities Training Team to clear trash from a river and turn the found objects into art.

Students will be able to earn the title Community Engaged Scholar by successfully completing service learning-designated courses and a public service project. This new honor will appear in the commencement program and transcripts.

Service learning opportunities have long existed at UNC Asheville, with the university’s Key Center for Community Citizenship and Service Learning as the hub connecting students and faculty with community partners. But these service learning-designated courses are new and call for enhanced connections between ser­vice and academic work. The courses have students working at places in Asheville like Head Start educational centers, Claxton Elementary School and the Burton Street community.

Creating this new honor holds the promise of further enhanc­ing and expanding service learning, “a win-win situation” for students and the community, according to Joseph Berryhill, director of the Key Center and associate professor of Psychology. “Many students who come here really want to be in Asheville, and service learn­ing gets them involved off-campus, responding to what the community wants and needs,” said Berryhill.
While the Community Engaged Scholar honor provides a wor­thy reward, and community service work helps build a résumé, Berryhill, as a psychologist, feels that altruistic motivation is the strongest. He believes students usually choose service learning because of a true desire to serve the community, not a desire for recognition.

For Berryhill, the benefit is real-world experience. “I think if service learning is successful,” he said, “students come to realize limitations—how deeply entrenched many of our problems are and how much change is required and how long it can take. They also see how much courage and stamina people in situ­ations like poverty have to have in dealing with prejudice and disenfranchisement. And I hope students see that they can make a lifetime of civically-engaged work.”

 

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