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KWC connects students, service organizations

By Austin Ramsey Messenger-Inquirer 

It’s called the Community Engagement Program, and CETL Director Christine Salmon said it uses teaching principles such as service learning and volunteerism to effect positive change in both the college and community, while creating a dynamic classroom environment.

The center was founded just last year out of a $2.1 million U.S. Department of Education grant aimed at bolstering the college’s active learning climate.

“We are here to grow the use of these practices, because they have been proven to improve retention of students and help students achieve through college,” she said.

Service learning isn’t the center’s only focus; there are first-year seminars, learning communities, writing-intensive courses and more programs that fall under what are called high-impact educational practices. Service and community-based learning, though, are ways KWC can invest in the region’s future and create partnerships between service organizations and students.

The college hosts a Wesleyan Way Day of Service in the fall, but Salmon said sometimes volunteerism doesn’t provide the collaboration that service learning can, where a community organization is the co-educator and students learn through service by applying skills and knowledge to meet community needs.

Last year, 461 students provided more than 18,000 hours serving 20,000 members of the Owensboro and Daviess-County community. Salmon said the center wants to build on that with more mutually beneficial relationships.

The first step toward creating those partnerships is already under way. She said she is working with an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service To America) volunteer, Pamela Bates, to identify what KWC’s existing service learning strengths are. The pair are identifying which classrooms have programs under way and how they are designed.

The next step, she said, will be to continue reaching out to organizations in the community to see what needs are present and how teachers and their students can meet them.

The idea is for the center to act as the conduit for service learning opportunities.

“Sometimes it’s difficult for faculty to find the time to make the connections and make the appropriate assignments on top of what else they have to do,” she said. “That’s where we come in. The center is acting as the liaison in developing partnerships.”

Some programs already exist. The Criminal Justice, Criminology and Law degree program at KWC requires that its majors complete two service learning courses. Salmon said she hopes to continue that trend.

Several projects are being developed that will supplement the Community Engagement Program at KWC when classes resume next fall.

Austin Ramsey, 270-691-7302, aramsey@messenger-inquirer.com, Twitter: @austinrramsey

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