The Role of University in Promoting Volunteerism and Civic Engagement

Nuntinee Malanon, Manager of Volunteer Spirit Network (Thailand)

In the mid 1980s , the US universities were in the center of criticism about lacking of contribution to the society and couldn’t serve some useful purpose in addressing the major issues of the day. This led to the new initiative of National Campus Compact which is a national coalition of colleges and universities committed to the public purposes of higher education. The University of Montana also joined this movement and established Montana Campus Compact dedicated to promoting community service, civic engagement, and service-learning in higher education across universities and colleges in the State of Montana. In order to engage students and faculties in campus and community partnership, in 1992 UM established The Office for Civic Engagement which is originally founded as Volunteer Action Services under the Davidson Honors College to coordinate student volunteerism on campus as well as mobilize student volunteers responded to community needs.

Currently,the Office for Civic Engagement has been operated under the Academic Enrichment and mainly provided 4 types of services for students and faculties, student volunteer programs, nonprofit studies programs, service learning programs as well as national and international volunteer programs. For student volunteer programs, students can choose various kinds of volunteer opportunity offered by local nonprofit organizations ranged from short direct service deliveries to long term volunteer placements. For nonprofit studies program, the office has collaborated with Nonprofit Leadership Alliances and provided nonprofit management leadership courses and certified those who fully attended as nonprofit management leadership. Moreover, the Office for Civic Engagement also offered 21-credit minor in nonprofit management for student with any major background. For service learning program, the Office for Civic Engagement has served as great resource of service learning methods and tools, identified partnership with local nonprofit or community based organizations, and facilitated the application of theory and practices for student learning. For national and international volunteer programs, the Office for Civic Engagement serves as a general resource for state and national opportunities and students can choose to participate in national service programs such as AmeriCorps or VISTA (Volunteer in Service to America). Students were also offered variety of international volunteer program including PeaceCorps.

Today I have learned significantly about the important role of university in promoting volunteerism and civic engagement and I am so much inspired by the commitment of these two organizations. As I experienced of observing both team meetings, I found that there are some critical factors affected to successful works. The first factor is the application of collaboration method which means working across sectors and trying to engage relevant stakeholders in the area. The second factor is actively creating opportunities for working with academic faculties in order to extend student learning opportunities through volunteerism, civic engagement or service learning. Student will gain professional skill and leadership development. The third factor is developing measurement and evaluation tools for tracking the output and impact of volunteerism,civic engagement or service learning in university and community. This will be proved the significance of university engagement for the meaningful public purposes. The fourth and last factor is creating strong and clear organization’s position in the field for example, the Office for Civic Engagement has worked as a bridge between student affairs and academic affairs. The Office for Civic Engagement enables the environment of service learning by providing academic learning approach and practical learning approach so that students can get knowledge through the real service activities which were based on community needs.

I also had a chance to learn from Megan Hill from Volunteer Missoula (www.VolunteerMissoula.org) which is an online platform to promote volunteering in Missoula community; this initiative was also supported by The University of Montana through the Office for Civic Engagement. They have worked closely to create the access to volunteer opportunities from all over the state. Those opportunities based on community problems. This also shows how university has played important role of creating innovative solution for civic engagement.

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