Service learning has long been a cornerstone of education at Cal State San Marcos, enriching the learning experience for students while promoting civic responsibility and strengthening the community.

“One of the best ways to learn is with a hands-on approach,” said kinesiology student Elizabeth Rosenbusch.

Each year, more than 75 classes at Cal State San Marcos integrate service learning into the curriculum. Different than volunteerism, service learning brings to life the subject matter of a course by involving students in real-world community service activities that directly relate to classroom teachings. Through the University’s nationally-acclaimed Community Service Learning program, students annually log more than 160,000 hours of community service valued at over $1.2 million.

Service learning activities are as diverse as the fields of study at CSUSM. In spring, literature and writing students organized innovative literacy exercises for an afterschool program for at-risk elementary students, while teams of computer science students hosted workshops at a local library to help community members gain basic computer skills. From delivering meals to local seniors with limited mobility, to helping rehabilitate and care for sheltered animals, nearly 3,500 students participate in service learning each year.

To enhance civic engagement, the Community Service Learning program annually awards ten mini-grants to help faculty purchase supplies for service projects. Kinesiology professor Dr. Paul Stuhr used the grant to buy new sports equipment for the schools where his students, who are studying to become future physical education teachers, help teach. A mutually valuable partnership, the schools and their students benefit with lower student-teacher ratios and more individualized instruction.

“I was able to put into practice many of the techniques that I learned in my physical education classes and apply them in a real-world environment with actual students,” explained Chelsey Hazell, who spent 30 hours during the semester teaching tag rugby and soccer to middle school students.

Service-focused curriculums typically require students to invest at least 20 hours in relevant community service, accounting for 15 percent of the student’s grade. Whether participating as a class, working in teams or serving individually, each student completes a reflection paper detailing how the project helped inform, illustrate or stimulate thoughts about course topics.

“Service learning bridges the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical experience, giving students the opportunity to test academic concepts in the real-world and explore the questions or insights that arise in those situations,” said Dr. Lori Heisler, assistant professor of communicative sciences and disorders. Through service learning, Heisler’s graduate students, who are preparing to be speech-language pathologists, facilitate hearing, speech and language screenings for the children at the Center for Children and Families, as well as local preschools.

By integrating service with instruction, CSUSM students deepen their understanding of course concepts and build a habit of social responsibility while serving their community.

“I truly feel that service learning should be a requirement for all students,” said communications alumna Ericka Arambula. “If anything, it gives back to the community in some way and a person will always take something positive from such an experience, one that will stay with them well beyond college.”

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