Service Learning

Introduction Origins of Service Learning | Service Learning in the Classroom | The Expansion of Community-based Courses, 2005-2011


Service learning as a pedagogy has become increasingly important to Davidson College. As defined by Dr. Annie Ingram, Davidson’s Thomson Professor of Environmental Studies and Professor of English, “service learning encourages students to draw connections between the service experience and an academic subject; it combines advocacy and activism with classroom learning; and it promotes the application of abstract concepts to actual situations” (“Some Definitions” n.p.). While many faculty members now include service learning in their classes, this was not always the case. At Davidson, trends towards experiential learning arose sporadically in the late 1960s and early 70s, paralleling a national movement.  The evolution of service learning at Davidson can be divided into three distinct time periods. The first spans the years from the 1970s to the late 80s. During this time experiential learning laid the foundation for more direct efforts toward incorporating service learning into the curriculum. With the arrival of President John Kuykendall in 1984, the college devoted more attention to service initiatives. The arrival of the Bonner Scholars Program at Davidson in 1992 marked the beginning of the next phase, in which increased administrative efforts facilitated the implementation of service learning in courses. The most recent phase in the evolution of service learning is marked by an external review of the college, conducted in 2005, which partially focused on Davidson’s approach to service. Recommendations echoed changes at colleges and universities across the nation, which were beginning to emphasize civic engagement in higher education. Davidson’s focus on including community-based learning in the curriculum and all aspects of education reflects a strong dedication to the college’s mission to promote lives of service and leadership.

Ken Wood sitting on a table in a classroom with an outline of his Center-Venture model written on the chalkboard behind him .

Ken Woods in Classroom

Origins of Service Learning

Although service-learning courses didn’t officially exist in the 1970s and 80s, Davidson College began laying important groundwork for their development. In 1969, an evaluation of service-learning internship programs in North Carolina showed that the Davidson administration was willing to give credit for work, depending on the academic component, such as the Southern Regional Education Board internship. The statewide SREB Student Intern Project worked to provide high quality service-learning experiences to college students (Service-Learning Internships in North Carolina). Service opportunities merging basic research with activity could compose an SREB internship. Davidson also supported non-credit independent research projects through the Career-Study Program. In 1972, for example, John Divine ‘75 spent a year in Africa drilling a waterhole to increase the local population’s water supply. This opportunity allowed him to gain life experience that he brought back to Davidson.

Experiential Learning: Building a Foundation

Efforts towards service learning increased when Ken Wood arrived at Davidson in 1974. As Director of Experiential Programs and Placement, Wood made experiential learning an integral part of student life and consequently provided the foundation for future service-learning classes. Wood also emphasized the liberal arts aspect of off-campus engagement. The Office for Experiential Programs and Life/Work Planning combined student service with personal development, while relating both to the needs of individual students and society. As Wood explained in an interview, the office was built on his philosophy that “Learning is owned by the student and needs to begin with the student.” Through his programs, Wood aimed to empower youths by encouraging them to “center” and “venture”; center by discovering perceptions of themselves and their world, and venture by exploring these connections through outward experience.

The Center-Venture model led students to internships, externships, summer jobs, journeys, and social service relevant to their interests. One example of a “venture,” the Kenya Connection, involved a group of students traveling to Kenya and working to improve the education system. Wood commented proudly, “I have never met a returning volunteer who did not find the Connection ‘transformative’ in one form or another– a result of having skills, knowledge and abilities called forth to the max.” After venturing, students could reflect by either attending a Reflection and Evaluation Seminar hosted each semester or by speaking with Wood personally.

The Classroom and Student Offices: Results of Experiential Learning

Experiential learning’s effects in the classroom led to the development of service- learning courses. After students ventured outside of the college, they returned and made connections between their academic material and external experience. Faculty noticed this trend, and some worked to integrate the two, leading to the inclusion of “special studies” in their courses. Special studies involved structuring programs that combined real world experience with reading and writing for credit, and also contained a reflective component.
Furthermore, experiential learning also affected the organization of college offices. In 1981, student and faculty concern with improving career placement for graduates resulted in the shift from a liberal arts to a traditional corporate approach. Subsequently, the Office for Experiential Programs and Life/Work Planning transformed into the Careers Office, and Wood became its Director. At its inception, the Careers Office had three functions: career exploration, experiential learning, and career placement. Thus, Ken Wood’s efforts promoted student community engagement not only through personal interests, but also through career aspirations.

President John Kuykendall delivering a speech from behind a podium.

President John Kuykendall delivering a speech

President Kuykendall: Initiating Changes

During the early 1980s, the college not only shifted views on experiential learning, but also on service. President John Kuykendall’s inaugural address in 1984 changed the college’s perspective when he proclaimed, “Our forebears established this institution…a place in which learning is cherished for the sake of what it can do to transform life—both the lives of individuals and, consequently, the life of the commonwealth… The message is servanthood: servanthood in the classroom and…in matters civic and social” (Strategic Plan, 5). Kuykendall’s call to service represented a turning point in Davidson’s history and promoted future modifications to the college’s service efforts.

Campus Compact: Encouraging Student Involvement

Kuykendall continued to show his dedication to service by making Davidson College a member of Campus Compact. The Compact began in 1985 when the Education Commission of the States brought together college and university presidents who agreed to the goal of “teaching students the responsibilities of citizenship and equipping them with the resources to serve society” (Campus Compact, np). Campus Compact combated the assumption that college students were isolated and self-centered in their career aspirations.
One important component of the Campus Compact plan linked public service programs with the curriculum. A 1988 college report shows that during 1987, initiatives to link community service to the academic curriculum included the administration’s encouragement of faculty members to incorporate service into their courses. In 1988, Campus Compact met to review the role of faculty across colleges and universities in the public service initiative. They suggested interdisciplinary, topic-focused courses that enabled students to study relevant public issues and reflect on their service experiences.

The Task Force of 1987: Reforming Service at Davidson

Kuykendall’s next significant initiative was school-wide as opposed to nationwide. He appointed a task force in 1987 to evaluate service at the college and find ways to improve it. With the assistance of Julia Scatliff, the Regional Director of Campus Outreach Opportunity League, the task force compiled a list of suggestions. The major recommendations included adding the position of a Service Coordinator, institutionalizing a service program, and writing a philosophy of service. The Proposed Statement of Philosophy of Service expressed that “the college must support both courses and extracurricular activities that encourage an appreciation of human interdependence and creative approaches to solving human problems.” In addition, it suggested, “Davidson’s commitment to service needs to be reflected in all parts of the Davidson experience” (Task Force on Service, 2). The recommendations also urged that faculty consider, where appropriate, integrating some aspect of service into their courses. These efforts established the foundations for service learning courses, and allowed service to permeate every aspect of Davidson.

Davidson College Bonner Scholars Logo

Davidson College Bonner Scholars Logo

Service in the Classroom

Davidson’s statement of purpose reads: “The primary purpose of the college is to assist students in developing humane instincts and disciplined and creative minds for lives of leadership and service” (Strategic Plan, 4).  The college has always held the belief that education should strive for more than academic excellence (Strategic Plan, 7). Given Davidson’s strong interest in service, its incorporation into the academic arena is an indispensible asset to the institution.

The Bonner Foundation: Influencing Service Learning

Prior to President Kuykendall’s creation of the original Task Force on Service, in 1992, the Bonner Program (hyperlink to Bonner Davidson Website) was introduced at Davidson College (Strategic Plan, 5). Created in 1990, the Bonner Foundation offered scholarships to service-minded individuals and encouraged colleges to support civically engaged students (Hackett). Ruth Pittard, the first director of the Davidson Bonners explained, “Essentially, the Bonner scholars began the conversation about service learning.” The importance of community involvement permeated the student body through a group of individuals who dedicated their college experience to service and scholarship.

Through Bonner funds and programs, the college enhanced its dedication to the Davidson community. With the introduction of service –learning courses into the curriculum, Bonner fostered the union of service and education, which initiated the college’s holistic approach towards civic and academic engagement. The program provided grants to both students to conduct individual research and professors to create classes with a definitive service-learning components (Case and Shandley, np).

Course Description, Community Building: Charlotte

Course Description, Community Building: Charlotte

Service Learning: A Trend Across Disciplines

As ideals of civic engagement became integral to the college’s public identity, funding and encouragement for the unification of service work and academia began to come from sources other than Bonner. In the Spring of 1993, Davidson professors, Dr. Clark Ross (Economics) and Dr. Janet Shannon, (Sociology) team-taught Community Building: Charlotte at Johnson C. Smith University. The course prompted students from both schools to study urban growth in southern cities, and required them to volunteer with an organization featured in the curriculum (Ross, Shannon, np). In the Fall of 1996, Dr. Annie Ingram offered a first – year writing course, Environmental Writing. The class was designed to improve research and writing skills while nurturing “a sense of community and individual responsibility through service” (Ingram, Syllabus).

Also in 1996, Community Service Intern Catherine Turner ‘93 and Dr. Shelley Rigger organized a Service Learning Colloquium for professors interested integrating civic responsibility into their classes. The concept was that “service learning can be incorporated into any discipline” (Case and Shandley, np). The faculty embraced service learning as a reflection of their personal values, and also in relation to their individual field. As a result, the assimilation of service learning into the Davidson curriculum grew across departments, reflecting the college’s dedication to a liberal arts education.

Experiential Education: Administrative Interest

Foundational endeavors to coalesce the spheres of service and learning paved the way for broader administrational efforts towards service-based learning. In the summer of 1997, a re-evaluation of President Kuykendall’s original Task Force on Service allowed for the expansion and fortification of experiential education at Davidson. Greater funding for service learning was provided, along with the establishment of a core team. The team included a permanent staff position, created in 1997, for Service Coordinator. The Service Coordinator and Assistant Deans for Community Service would work together to familiarize faculty with resources to make service learning possible in multiple departments (Case and Shandley, np).

Service Learning: Combining Academics and Community Engagement

By the late 90s, “service learning” itself came to be defined as “a method by which students learn and develop through active participation in thoughtfully organized community service” (“Some Definitions”). When asked to reflect on personal experiences with experiential education, one student exclaimed: “I strongly recommend this to any student. It really helped me to reach out and has been a lasting influence on my life” (Case and Shandley, np). Classes such as Dr. Shireen Campbell’s English 201, Writing for the Community, promoted civic engagement, and also crafted various associated writing assignments. By developing relationships with community partners and nonprofit organizations, Dr. Campbell’s English 201, first offered in the Spring of 1997, prompted students not only to work in groups, but also to learn to write for an audience outside of a solely academic setting (Campbell, Personal Interview).

Service Learning Brochure

Service Learning Brochures

Strategic Plan: Role of the Community Service Program

Although the initial expansion of service learning at Davidson met growing student desires to become more active and engaged individuals, a strategic plan for experiential learning was not created until 1998. The plan proposed a clear liaison to the Davidson College Community Service Program, sought to implement procedures to expand service learning in the curriculum, and worked to foster community partnerships. (Strategic Plan, 14 – 18).

Summer of Service: Learning Within and Beyond the Classroom

The commitment to learning and serving, however, was not restricted to the Davidson community. In the summer of 2000, Dr. Jeremiah Putnam first traveled with a group of premedical students to Kikuyu, Kenya. There, the students studied diseases and healthcare systems while gaining real world experience at a local hospital. Travel to a foreign country not only afforded the students an opportunity for field work, but also exposed them to people of different cultures (Helfrich, np). [Image 4. Image of Students in Kenya] Davidson’s dedication to experiential education looks to “foster service which engages individuals in relationships of mutual learning, respect, and growth” (Strategic Plan, 4). Thus, the introduction of service work into the classrooms strengthened the college’s commitment to equip its graduates with skills of leadership and a wholly founded understanding of the world around them.

Davidson Community Garden Brochure

Davidson Community Garden Brochure

The Expansion of Community-based Learning Courses, 2005-Present

Since the early 1990s, Davidson College has become increasingly dedicated to providing service-learning or community-based learning courses. Some faculty have taught courses with service-learning components for many semesters. For example, Dr. Shireen Campbell began teaching her English 201: Writing with the Community class, originally called “Writing for the Community,” in 1997. This English class has completed projects like creating a community garden brochure and a pedestrian plan for the town. Dr. Campbell values this class for its ability to help students develop both collaborative and writing skills applicable outside of the classroom. Davidson has tended to embrace a traditional liberal arts curriculum, shying away from classes that focus heavily on “real world skills.” So, it is not surprising that relatively few professors across disciplines have such established familiarity with this teaching methodology. However, as these courses become more prevalent, service learning components offer a way to incorporate valuable experience and skills development into a variety of disciplines.

New Focus: Welcoming Community-based Learning and Civic Engagement

In the early 2000s, a growing number of service-learning classes helped highlight Davidson’s need to reassess its limited interpretation of community service. Starting in 2005, the arrival of new leadership for the Community Service Office in Stacey Riemer and Kevin Buechler marked a period of transition for service at Davidson. With a strong background in service learning, Riemer had a vision of community service at Davidson becoming more broadly defined to encompass more forms of civic participation. This changing approach to service began with an external review of the Community Service Office in 2005 and a strategic assessment of the college beginning in Fall 2007; one group of the strategic assessment was devoted to providing feedback on service and community engagement at Davidson. The college took steps specifically to improve service-learning classes, including a student-conducted study on service in the curriculum at Davidson’s peer institutions.

The vision began taking shape when the external review recommended a transformation of the Community Service Office into the Center for Civic Engagement, a change approved in October 2010 and fully executed by January 2011.  This transformation followed national trends in higher education toward incorporating service learning (“History,” np). Along with this shift, the efforts to support service-learning classes began using a newer and even broader term, community-based learning. Civic engagement and community-based learning each provide a wide interpretation of service at Davidson that encompasses projects with valuable reflective and academic opportunities for students in many areas of study.

Center Support: Encouraging the Faculty

The Center for Civic Engagement studied examples from peer institutions to plan an expansion of support for the faculty integrating community-based learning in their courses. Goals included further assisting the faculty through curriculum development resources and grants. As of Spring 2011, the Center provides a Summer Community-based Learning Institute, an opportunity for faculty to get support in planning community-based courses. Additionally, the Center provides and facilitates connections with community partners.

Results from “Student Perspectives on the Impact of Community-based Learning,” Fall 2010.

Results from “Student Perspectives on the Impact of Community-based Learning"

Getting Feedback: Students Approving New Methods

A 2010 report by the Community Service Office, “Student Perspectives on the Impact of Community Based Learning,” indicated that students who took community-based learning courses wanted to expand the number of classes with those components. Positive feedback indicated that the courses provided purposeful, real-world learning and hands-on group work that helped students improve communication and team work skills. One student assessed the value of community-based learning courses, saying, “There is greater incentive to produce quality work when working with the community partners, and there is a greater sense of satisfaction and meaning at the completion of the project” (Community Service Office, np).

Updated Curriculum: Adding CBL Courses

In response to enthusiastic reviews from students, faculty increased the number of community-based learning courses available. From 2007 to 2010, the Associate Dean directly supported twenty-four courses in twelve disciplines (Community Service Office, np). The continuously growing availability of these courses corresponds to recommendations for the Davidson curriculum, including a goal established in 2010 to provide at least ten community-based learning courses per semester (Framework, np). These classes began to be identified by the acronym CBL in the course catalog during the 2010-2011 school year, evidence of growing support. CBL courses are a method that Center for Civic Engagement can use to blur the boundaries between the classroom and the community and “to promote powerful student learning experiences, sustainable [community] partnerships, and civic engagement” (Framework, np).

Application Across Disciplines: Diversifying Community-based Learning

Community-based or service learning can be implemented in a variety of ways across disciplines. The departments with CBL course listings in the 2010-2011 school year include Anthropology, Biology, English, Economics, Mathematics, Political Science, Spanish, and Theatre. Many courses focus on analyzing and solving community problems through direct engagement combined with classroom learning, allowing for an effective partnership with the community. This course model also gives time for learning through reflection on that work in a classroom setting (Framework, np).

Dr. Jessica Taft became familiar with the study of civic engagement through her work on adolescent activism and by using a community-based learning model in her Sociology courses. Her Sociology 233: Sociology of Childhood class leaves campus to work with at a local children’s organization to better understand and engage with concepts from course texts through community experience (Taft, 1).

Students from Dr. Chartier’s Math 210: Mathematical Modeling pose together for a picture in Spring 2010.

Students from Dr. Chartier’s Math 210: Mathematical Modeling pose together for a picture in Spring 2010.

Another class that implements community-based learning is Dr. Tim Chartier’s (link to his profile for Center or his In Focus) Math 210: Mathematical Modeling. In a Spring 2010 course, the students partnered with four local non-profits and used math for problem solving. They completed projects in which they determined optimal space layouts for Ada Jenkins Center buildings or assigned students to practicum groups for the Community School of Davidson (Westra, np). This class allows students to gain real world experience by developing consulting skills while working outside the classroom to serve the community. “There’s nothing more real than that,” Chartier observed when reflecting on the success of the class (Jones, np). Innovative uses of community-based learning like this one help a range of faculty see the benefits of this model and understand the possibilities across disciplines.

Jessica Taft’s class at community-based learning poster fair.

Jessica Taft’s class at community-based learning poster fair.

A New Discipline: Hoping for the Future

Between collaborating on community writing projects, studying the socialization of children, and assessing the best design of a building’s layout, the CBL courses at Davidson enrich the rigorous liberal arts education that the college has always offered. The opening of the Center for Civic Engagement marked a major transition for the way the college approaches all types of community-based learning. Less visible and publicized is the evolution from the initial incorporation of experiential learning in the 1960s to the most recent emphasis on community-based learning. The recommendations of the external review with regards to service learning are still being executed as of Spring 2011. The eventual possibility of creating a community-based learning concentration, first through the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, will provide further publicity and impetus for students and faculty alike to participate in these courses. A poster session in April 2011 exhibited work done by seven CBL courses, a sign that community-based scholarship has secured a place in higher education at Davidson College.

Works Cited

Campus Compact: The Project for Public and Community Service. 22 July 1986. RG 2/8. Assistant to President Records. Campus Compact. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Kennedy, Donald and David Warren. The Faculty Role in the Public Service Initiative. 9 March 1988. RG 6/8. Community Service. Task Force on Service. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Lawrimore, Earl. Student to Spend Year in Africa Drilling for Water. 1972. RG 6/9.2.      Career Services and Experiential Learning. Newsrelease. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

McCorkle, Nelle. Guidelines for Annual Reports to Campus Compact. 6 July 1988. RG    6/8. Community Service. Task Force on Service. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Office of Career Services. Internships Student Guidebook. 1992-1993. RG 6/9.2. Career Services and Experiential Learning. Publications-Placement News. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Office for Experiential Programs and Life/Work Planning Faculty. Memo. 10 July 1975.   RG 3/9.1. Career Services and Experiential Learning. Publications: Center for Interdisciplinary Studies. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Penick, George D. Jr. North Carolina Service-Learning Internship Program: Yes or No?     and How? 13 February 1969. RG 2/1.15. President Spencer. Southern Regional Educational Board (SREB). Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

“Service-Learning Internships in North Carolina.” ERIC – World’s Largest Digital Library of Education Literature. Web. 21 Apr. 2011.   <>.

Sifford, Darrell. “Decisions, Decisions! Those Dreadful Decisions!” Davidson College News Vol. LXXXII No.5. March 1976.

“Task Force on Service.” 1987-1988. RG 6/8. Community Service. Task Force on Service. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Towards the Union of Academic & Experiential Education, Strategic Plan 1998. 1 June 1998. RG 6/8. Community Service. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Wood, Ken. Personal Interview. 29 March 2011.

Wood, Ken. The Careers Office. 7 September 1981. RG 6/9. Career Services and Experiential Learning. Publicity. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

“Wood Reflects on 21 Years as an Inside Outsider.” Campus Chronicle 10.6 (1995): 6-7. Print.

Works Cited-Service in the Classroom:

Campbell, Shireen. Personal Interview. 25 March, 2010.

Case, Verna and Tom Shandley. “Task Force on Community Service.” Memo to The Members of the Task Force on Community Service, 29 May. 1997. Davidson College. Davidson, NC.

CEN 391, Community Building: Charlotte. Center for Interdisciplinary Studies.

Spring 1993. RG 3/9 Course Descriptions 1989 -1993. Davidson College Archives, Davidson NC.

Hackett, Robert. “The Bonner Network Wiki / Bonner Program.” The Bonner Network Wiki / Front Page. Bonner Program. Web. 20 Apr. 2011. <>.

Helfrich, Tim. “Students Return from Kenya.” Lake Norman Times [Mooresville] 23 Aug. 2000. Print.

Ingram, Annie. “Some Definitions of Service Learning.” Service Learning Advisory Committee ,1999- – 2000. May 1999. RG 311.2.07 VPAA5. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Ingram, Annie. Syllabus. English 101: Environmental Writing. Davidson: Davison College. Fall 1996.

Pittard, Ruth. Personal Interview. 21 March, 2010.

Towards the Union of Academic & Experiential Education, Strategic Plan 1998. June 1 1998. RG 6/8 Community Service. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Works Cited-The Expansion of Community-based Courses, 2005-2011:

Baldasare, Leah. “A Sociology of Hope.” Profile on Dr. Jessica Taft for the Center for Civic Engagement. 2011.

Campbell Shireen. Personal Interview. March 25, 2011.

Community Service Office. “Student Perspectives on the Impact of Community-based     Learning.” Davidson: Davidson College, Fall 2010.

— “Framework for the Center for Civic Engagement at Davidson College.” Davidson: Davidson College, May 2010.

“History of Service-Learning in Higher Education.” National Service-Learning Clearinghouse. January 2008. <>.

Ingram, Annie. Personal Interview. March 24, 2011.

Jones, Allison. “Mathematical Modeling: A Model for Civic Engagement.” Profile on Dr. Tim Chartier for the Center for Civic Engagement. 2011.

Moran, Brian. “Community Service Office Gets Two New Leaders.” The Davidsonian. [Davidson, NC] 3. Davidson College Archives. March 2011.

Riemer, Stacey. Personal Interview. March 24, 2011.

Students in Davidson College’s Math Modeling Class. Photograph. In Westra, Cathryn. “Find Out How Non-Profits in Davidson Benefit from Math.” Davidson: April 22, 2011.

Taft, Jessica. “Sociology 233: Sociology of Childhood.” Syllabus. Davidson: Davidson College. Spring 2011.

“Tend Some, Take Some, Share a Lot: Davidson Community Garden.” Brochure. Davidson United Methodist Church, Spring 2010. Original and Private Collection.

Westra, Cathryn. “Find Out How Non-Profits in Davidson Benefit from Math.” April 16, 2011.

Authors: Morgan Orangi ‘13 (Origins of Service Learning), Layne Piper ‘12 (The Expansion of Community-based Learning Courses) , and Ayesha Shah ‘13 (Service in the Classroom)

Date: 21 April 2011

Cite as: Organi, Morgan, Piper, Layne, and Shah Ayesha, “Service Learning” Davidson Encyclopedia 21 April 2011 <>

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