Community service: It’s a growing trend among CU students

A national survey shows there’s a growing number of Carleton students who participate in community service and volunteer work – a trend the university is focussing on to enhance the student experience.

The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) has been providing insights into the qualities of the campus learning environment for a decade. Carleton has administered the survey four times since 2004 and will participate again in 2011.

The 2008 NSSE results show students are taking advantage of opportunities available to them outside the classroom — volunteer work and extracurricular activities — to enhance their education.

About two-thirds of first-year and final year students at Carleton participate or plan to participate in community service or volunteer work. Nearly half take part in co-curricular activities with organizations, campus publications, student governance or intramural sports.

The survey, says Suzanne Blanchard, associate vice-president (enrolment management) and university registrar, measures the academic experience and levels of student engagement and helps the post-secondary system focus on institutional improvements and enhance the student experience.

“We are really proud of the meaningful activities that students get involved with to make the most of their university experience,” says Blanchard.

“Ottawa,” she says, “offers a number of very unique opportunities for Carleton University students, like participating in national and non-profit organizations. They are learning valuable skills, bringing a whole spectrum of experience back to the classroom and defining their future goals.”

Lauren Dodds, 20, a third-year political science major, has been involved with Carleton’s Student Experience Office (SEO) since last year and is now acting as a peer helper for Community Service Learning.

“Participating in the Alternative Spring Break project (offered through the SEO) helped me clarify my career path,” Dodds explains.

“I went to Mexico last year and worked in a squatter settlement. It was an experiential learning opportunity that made me realize I want to do more work abroad.”

Dodds encourages other students to “get involved while you are at Carleton, because these opportunities are not going to come knocking on your door when you leave.”

Next February will be Carleton’s third Alternative Spring Break program, Blanchard adds. Other projects that allow students to become involved include Days of Service, one-day opportunities to partner with such organizations as the Cornerstone Women’s Shelter, the Snowsuit Fund or the Ottawa Mission; and the Batawa-Carleton Initiative, a project that offers students the chance to help design a sustainable community.

The university also caters to a wide range of interests — from debating and film to skiing and snowboarding — through its more than 150 clubs and societies.

This winter, Carleton is launching a co-curricular transcript, a tool for students to promote themselves when job hunting or pursuing further education. The record of a student’s accomplishments and involvement is a new component of the Carleton Complete program, which was established in March as a one-stop student support service.

The co-curricular record is popular in the U.S., and Carleton, says Blanchard, is at the forefront of the Canadian trend.

Read more stories from the NSSE results at http://carleton.ca/students/students-speak. The summary of selected results can be found at http://oirp.carleton.ca/surveys.

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Susan Hickman

By Susan Hickman

For nearly four decades, journalist Susan Hickman has written about every imaginable subject for sundry newspapers and magazines in Canada and abroad, as well as for CBC TV and CBC Radio. She has also managed various publications, including academic newspapers and technology magazines, and was recently commissioned to write a guide for foreign missions serving in Canada. Currently, she is working on a couple of personal memoirs.

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