Lessons Through Service

President Steven Knapp discusses service learning at Serve D.C.’s annual institute.

August 06, 2010

Public service is not only a selfless act; it’s also an educational one. President Steven Knapp spoke about the role service learning can play at higher education institutions on a panel at the fourth annual Service-Learning Institute for Higher Educational Institutes and Partners, held in the City View Room at 1957 E St on Aug. 5.

Hosted by Serve D.C.–The Mayor’s Office on Volunteerism, the panel focused on how universities can create a culture of service and included Sylvia Benatti, MVC B.A.’96, M.A.’98, visiting professor in urban studies at the University of the District of Columbia; and Katherine Meister, a senior at Georgetown University. It was moderated by Amy B. Cohen, executive director of GW’s Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service.

Dr. Knapp told the audience that when he attended college, service learning was “nowhere on the radar screen.” As a faculty member at the University of California at Berkeley, Dr. Knapp participated in a number of community service projects but said there was still no connection between public service and the classroom.

“[My service] was all entirely outside the university and it was all on my own time and had no connection to the teaching I was involved in,” said Dr. Knapp. “Students would ask questions in my office hours but that was the closest [we got] to integration.”

But service learning is increasingly becoming an integral part of a student’s educational experience. In May 2010, GW students secured First Lady Michelle Obama as the keynote Commencement speaker by completing more than 100,000 service hours during the academic year.

The university’s commitment to service was recognized by the Corporation for National and Community Service and the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll. Last year, GW also created the Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service and received an endowment for the first Lerner Family Associate Dean for Public Interest and Public Service Law.

Dr. Knapp said he has been impressed with the leadership GW students have taken to “inspire and drive service.” “This whole field has evolved because of the participation of students and we as university administrators have really responded to it,” he said. “As faculty become more aware of it and involved in these efforts, I think we’re going to see this movement growing.”

GW is also the recipient of a grant from Serve D.C. to help promote high-quality service-learning in higher education. The grant will aid the university in developing approximately 30 service-learning courses over the next three years and supporting 10 students a year to be “public service scholars.”

“I think having these student scholars will really help to energize the whole process at our university,” said Dr. Knapp.” I’m very enthusiastic about the grant. It’s an important new step for us, and we’re going to take advantage of it.”

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