Putting Your Skills into Practice: Spring 2016 Community Service Opportunities for English, CW, and ToE Students

CLL_graphicThe English Undergraduate Advising Office is excited to announce a new partnership with the U of I School of Social Work’s Community Learning Lab (CLL) for Spring 2016.

The Community Learning Lab is looking for 10-15 English, Creative Writing, or Teaching of English students to get involved in community projects for the Spring semester. If a lot of students are interested in working with CLL, they can offer even more opportunities in future semesters. Some projects are open to 2 or 3 students, so you have the option to collaborate with a friend of classmate if you’d like.  Each project will involve no more than 25 hours of work during a single semester.

To get involved, send an email ssw-cll@illinois.edu, explaining that you are an English department major interested in CLL opportunities.  You will receive a list of available projects and a link for signing up for whichever project interests you most.

This partnership will give English, Creative Writing, and Teaching of English students the opportunity to acquire valuable professional experience and to practice real-world job skills by doing community service projects for organizations in Champaign-Urbana. By offering invaluable assistance to organizations that need their help, English students will develop connections to the local community and expand their college experience beyond the borders of campus.

To learn more about this collaboration and what it means for our students, I recently talked with Katie Shumway from the Community Learning Lab.

Can you tell me a little about the Community Learning Lab? What are its goals? How does it help connect the University to the Champaign-Urbana community?

The whole point of CLL is to create a mutually beneficial relationship between the campus and the community. Through our program, community partners (which can include non-profit agencies, fire departments, police departments, schools, and even some for-profit agencies) submit project requests to our online database. We examine those requests for projects and match them with courses on campus whose curriculum is in line with the needs of the project. We’ve seen that manifest in a lot of different directions. For instance, some agencies ask for help with grant writing, program evaluations, or needs assessments. As you can imagine, the range of project requests that we get is very vast. Our overall goal is to benefit the community while also giving students a hands-on experience that gives them a sense of satisfaction that they contributed to their community and did something that benefited local agencies.

What are some of the departments on campus that you’ve worked with in the past?

We started within the School of Social Work, so initially most of our course and faculty partnerships were within Social Work. But as the type of project request from the community started to broaden, we began reaching out to other colleges and departments like the College of Business, the College of Media, the College of Medicine, the College of Nursing, the Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Relations, Psychology, Natural Resources and Environmental Science, Statistics, Art History, Biology, Chemistry, Communication, and Economics.

That’s quite a list!

It is quite a list. And that’s just some of them. Students will come to us and say, “I want experience working with this population” or “I want to offer this skillset to the community. Do you have any community partners that would benefit from this?” We also have students that just say, “I want to give back to the community, and I’m looking for some service opportunities,” and then we match the students up with service learning projects.

How many UIUC students currently work with the Community Learning Lab?

During Fall 2015, we created 322 student opportunities and we worked with 23 classes or student groups. Since its inception in Fall 2013, CLL has created 1,218 student opportunities. U of I students working with CLL have done a total of 19,248 hours of community service since the program began.

We work primarily with classes, but we also sometimes work with James Scholars students, who complete a project for the community, and with student groups. For instance, StatCom, a statistics in the community group, wanted to provide pro bono statistical consulting services, but they didn’t really know how to get connected to the community, so they came to us. It’s a really cool partnership, because a lot of nonprofits don’t have the time, manpower, or finances to be able to pay for statistical analysis or data interpretation.

What are a couple of the projects that will be available to English students in the spring?

A lot of the projects involve looking for and applying for grants. As you can imagine, grants are really important for the agencies, and it would also be really beneficial for the students to be able to say they had experience writing grant applications. Another agency asked for help with a lit review. And a local food pantry wants help creating pamphlets of local resources and agencies that people going to the food pantry might benefit from being made aware of.

What kinds of background knowledge or experience do you like students to have?

We want students who are willing to make contact with the agencies and who realize that they might need to email the agencies a couple of times. Students should be good at follow-through.

What are some things that students who have worked with CLL have told you about their experiences?

A lot of students said they would talk about their CLL experience in a job interview, and the great majority of students who partnered with CLL thought they’d be more marketable as a result of their experience. On end-of-semester satisfaction surveys, students said the following:

  • “It added to my professional growth.”
  • “It gave me an opportunity to further develop my professional skills.”
  • “It gave me real-world professional experiences.”
  • “It improved my communication skills with others.”
  • “It increased my networking opportunities.”
  • “I learned I had really valuable skills to offer to the community that I didn’t realize that I’d had.”
  • “Projects can be difficult and they take time, but they’re rewarding and interesting and give us an opportunity to give back to the community”
  • “It was actually a lot easier than I thought to connect with the community.”

What can students learn from CLL volunteer projects that they might not in a class or a part-time job?

They get the satisfaction of giving back to the community, which they won’t get in a standard class or in a standard job. It really gives them a sense of fulfillment and ownership.

How much time should interested students plan to commit for these projects?

Typically, students are not expected to work over 25 hours in a semester.

What steps should interested students take to get involved?

Interested students can email the Community Learning Lab at ssw-cll@illinois.edu and say that they’re from the English Department and are interested in learning more about CLL opportunities. Then I would send them the project descriptions and a link that they could use to sign up for whatever opportunity they’re most interested in. After that, I do an email introduction to connect the students to the agency, and from that point forward, the majority of the communication is between the student and the agency. CLL serves as the matchmaker.

For a complete list of CLL’s community partners, visit http://socialwork.illinois.edu/community-learning-lab-2/.

If you have questions about partnering with CLL or want to get involved, email ssw-cll@illinois.edu.

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