UMW’s new Center for Community Engagement is home to several programs that help students engage in the world around them.
On a Wednesday afternoon last December, five students were busy sorting brightly colored gift boxes into groups. “We need a few more boxes for the kids at Hugh Mercer Elementary School,” observed Megan Turner, a graduate assistant at the Center for Community Engagement.
“I have them over here,” shouted Jordan Chandler, a senior geography student. This process was the final stage in a long, multi-step project that was being coordinated by members of COAR, a student-run service group (COAR is an acronym for “Community Outreach and Resources”). The Gift Box Drive, which runs each year, provides opportunities for UMW community members, including students, faculty and staff, to donate toys, toothbrushes, and hats and gloves to children in the local Head Start and Virginia Preschool Initiative programs, programs that help children from low-income families get ready for kindergarten. And the COAR students manage every aspect of the Gift Box Drive, starting with the gift box wrapping party for students in November, and ending with the delivery of the gifts to smiling preschool children in mid-December.
President Troy Paino’s strategic vision for UMW involves instilling the value of service across the university, equipping students to address society’s demands, to challenge injustices, and to embrace the world’s possibilities. “We believe that when students engage in the communities around them, whether through service, volunteering, interning, or research, they have a unique learning experience that helps them grow in immeasurable ways,” shared Dr. Sarah Dewees, the Associate Director of the Center for Community Engagement. “Our philosophy is that engaged learning is enhanced learning.” Dewees described the ways that community engagement can contribute to enhanced learning experiences: “When students volunteer or work with community organizations, they are given a chance to think about what they are learning in the classroom, and how it helps them understand what they are seeing in the world around them. It also helps them build a range of career skills such as project management and marketing. In addition, it also supports the development of emotional intelligence as students reflect on their own identity and position in life.”
The Center for Community Engagement is home to several programs that help students engage in the world around them. The COAR program, started by civil rights activist Dr. James Farmer, also runs weekly volunteer activities that place students in tutoring programs, the local homeless shelter, or working with an urban gardening organization, to name a few. COAR builds student leadership by giving students a chance to serve on the COAR Council or as paid staff, where they learn to run community service programs and events. The Center also offeres an Alternative Service Break program where students volunteer with Habitat for Humanity to help build or repair houses over spring and summer break. Over 40 students are participating in 2019.
In addition, the Center works with faculty to help them develop classes with community engagement built into to the learning model, and to support faculty as they explore ways to work with local community partners. “We are lucky to have dedicated faculty who are committed to providing opportunities for students to engage in the community around them,” shared Dr. Leslie Martin, the Director of the Center. “And we look forward to supporting faculty to continue this proud UMW tradition of community engagement.” For more information, visit our website at https://academics.umw.edu/communityengagement/
For more information: Contact Sarah Dewees, Associate Director of the Center for Community Engagement 540-907-6247 (cell) or firstname.lastname@example.org
Sarah Dewees, Associate Director of the Center for Community Engagement