Purpose of Service-Learning

To enhance student learning through connections between academic course work and real world applications--preparing students to succeed in diverse local and global economies, and enriching personal, professional, and social responsibilities.

Community-Engaged and Service-Learning Policy

Learning Objective

Service learning has three major objectives

  • To enhance academic learning by allowing students to apply their classroom learning and to appreciate the connections between their academic coursework and the community.
  • To contribute to civic and moral learning by increasing students' understanding of both the richness and the problems of our community.
  • To contribute to professional learning by introducing students to potential careers while helping them to develop the social awareness and understanding necessary for effective professional development.


Service Learning Course Guidelines:

  • Service projects or activities must meet community-identified needs.
  • Service projects must require interaction between students and community and/or partners.
  • Service projects or activities must link to course content and/or learning outcomes.
  • The course must have a formal reflection component (paper or presentation) that relates the service to course content and/or learning outcomes.
  • Student placements and community partnerships must follow campus guidelines available at the Community Engagement Office.

How Service Learning is Added to a Course

Service Projects may include: (for additional ideas please contact the Community Engagement Office)

  • direct aid to individuals/groups in need,
  • education, recreation, or outreach activities,
  • policy analysis and research at the request of the community with specific opportunities for dissemination or presentation,
  • event implementation

Curricular Options

  • Service Learning courses: These are courses in which a portion of the student's work happens off campus in a community setting.
  • Service Learning project options: These are service projects which are offered as one option for a project requirement in a course
  • Service Learning labs: Additional course units can be added to an existing course, or to sections of an existing course to ‘house' the service learning component
  • Other community service learning experience: A wide variety of additional curricular arrangements may be developed as long as they include the essential three components: academic study, service, and structured reflection to link the study and the service.

Tips For Integrating Service into the Curriculum

  • Talk about the service on the first day of class, perhaps even inviting a representative from a community agency to visit. Address student fears, concerns, and expectations.
  • Encourage your students (perhaps even as an in-class activity) to use a planning guide to find the best time and place for their service. If possible, you may want to have prepared ahead of time the various time slots the agencies on your list have available. Many of our students work and will automatically respond that they don't have any extra time. If the service assignment is an option, then this isn't a problem. However, depending on the nature of your assignment, there are many flex-time opportunities for students in evenings and on the weekends.
  • Just in case, have a backup plan for students with special needs.
  • Prepare students with the appropriate skills and brief them on their responsibilities regarding professionalism, commitment, and follow-through. Students will also need a specific timeline for contacting agencies, signing up for a placement, and starting and finishing their service.
  • Make sure to contact the community partner(s) at least once during the term to seek feedback.

Appropriate Community Partners

Schools, school site support agencies, non-profit organizations and associations, and social service and government agencies

Finding Community Partners and Managing Student Placements

  • Students can self-select from our database at CalStateS4 or if the faculty member is establishing a new partnership or allowing students to choose their own sites, the faculty member is then responsible for contacting agencies to complete the online Partnership Request before students can be placed. Based on this form a contract between the university and the agency will be established. Please ask community partners to complete the online Partnership Request.
  • Students must complete a waiver at CalStateS4.

How to Prepare Students for Service Learning

Thoughtful preparation is critical to creating an impactful service-learning experience for students. Students should understand what is expected of them, feel confident in their ability to complete the service-learning project, and should be fully prepared for the service-learning experience before starting their project work.

Explain the project in detail, including how it relates to course study, the expected community impact, and, if relevant, possible future careers. Also include an explanation of the following:

  • Set clear expectations, such as:
    • Arrive on time and dress appropriately
    • Ask for help when in doubt
    • Call if you anticipate lateness or absence
    • Respect the privacy of all clients
    • Show respect for the agencies for whom you work
    • Be appropriate in attitude, manners and appearance
    • Be flexible
  • Information about and understanding of the population the students will be working with
  • Clear project description – make sure students understand the tasks and any deliverables that they are responsible for
  • Provide background information about, or have students research, the community organization they will be working with

Reflection questions prior to beginning the service-learning project

Reflection is a useful tool throughout any service-learning experience. Below are some questions for students to ponder before starting their service-learning project.

  • Why do you do service?
  • How do you define community?
  • Who determines what's best for the community?
  • What is the mission of the community organization?
  • How will you help achieve this mission?

The role of the syllabus in student preparation

The syllabus is the student's first interaction with the service-learning project. The project needs to be clearly explained in how it relates to the course work. Include an explanation of the following:

  • Why this specific service project is part of the course
  • The objective and goals of the project
  • Connection between the service experience and course content
  • If available, include required dates and directions, if students will need to drive to an off-campus site
  • How students will reflect throughout the semester
  • How the service-learning project is incorporated in the student's final grade

Safety and Other Pertinent Information for Students Participating in Off-Campus Service-Learning

Student should never:

  • Report to the service site under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Give or loan money or other personal belongings to a client.
  • Make promises or commitments to a client that neither the student nor the organization can keep.
  • Give a client or organizational representative a ride in a personal vehicle unless the person is authorized for transport. Do not transport a child by yourself.
  • Tolerate verbal exchange of a sexual nature or engage in behavior that might be perceived as sexual with a client or agency representative.
  • Tolerate verbal exchange or engage in behavior that might be perceived as discriminating against an individual on the basis of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.

Safety precautions students should take when working in an area they are unfamiliar with:

  • Keep your automobile a non-attraction. Do not leave items visible in the car's interior. Place valuable articles in the trunk prior to arrival.
  • If you take the bus, be sure to know the route and the bus fare.
  • Carry enough money to get home in case of a breakdown or transportation problem.
  • Develop a community safety net of resources in your placement area.
  • Get to know your supervisor at the agency. Ask her/him questions about the area and get suggestions on what you should do if you find yourself in trouble.

On-site Orientation:

Orientation by the Community Partner must occur on or before first day of service. This is the simplest, most effective way for students to become aware of emergency policies, accident procedures, and the rules and regulations of the site.

  • Tour of site - location of restroom and break room.
  • Where, and with whom, do students check in each time they arrive at the site?
  • Where is the logbook kept (to record service hours)?
  • Review safety rules of the site, location of emergency exits, and emergency procedures.
  • Emergency Contact Information: students should share with Community Partner.