FAQ for Community Partners

FAQ - Community-Engaged Learning

Community-engaged learning volunteers are different from other volunteers in various ways. On a basic level, they differ because their work with you is part of a university class. Their time commitment options with you may also be more limited than some volunteers—most service-learning volunteers are expected to work 2 to 3 hours per week during the semester of their service-learning class. Also, because a semester goes by quickly, it's very important that you plug community-engaged learning students into concrete volunteer activities in a timely manner.

The other difference is that there are learning objectives connected to these students' work with you. As a host organization, you are considered a co-educator for these students. (This sets community-engaged learning students apart from other students who may have to complete a certain number of hours to graduate, but whose service is not connected to an academic course.) When you work with community-engaged learning students, we strongly encourage you to learn about what the students are studying in class and then engage them in reflection activities while they work in your organization.

If you haven't discussed this with our staff, that's your first step. Contact us about scheduling a meeting to discuss a community-engaged learning partnership. At that meeting, we'll explain our process to you and provide you with access to the online system we use to place and track service-learning students.

You can ask, and we can try to accommodate this at times, but we can't guarantee that students from any particular field or major will be available. Our support of community-engaged learning classes comes at the request of individual faculty members, and the community-engaged learning classes offered each semester vary. We do work regularly with faculty and students in 20 or more academic departments, and we strive to make the best possible matches between organizations and students. We will help you as much as we can.

Many U of M classes enroll students from a wide variety of majors. When you do post community-engaged learning positions through us, you can mention that they're ideal for students in specific majors. Also, please let us know if you are interested in working with students from a specific department. We can sometimes recruit new faculty/departments to community-engaged learning and it helps if we can tell them they'd be responding to a community-identified need.

There are some U of M courses (with a community-engaged learning component) that do not work through us, the Center for Community-Engaged Learning. In most of those classes, faculty place their students at organizations the faculty member is already connected to. But in some instances, a student may call you and say s/he has a service requirement for a class or an instructor you've never heard of. Whether you decide to work with these students or not is entirely up to you. Consider how their needs fit with yours and ask these students what their class requires in terms of your approving their hours.

We would appreciate hearing if you receive requests like this. One of the benefits of our work coordinating U of M community-engaged learning is that it helps organizations manage the volume and type of student requests they get. When we can encourage additional faculty to work with us, it may lead to better outcomes for everyone involved—students, faculty, and community organizations.

Typically, community-engaged learning students are required to spend 2 to 3 hours per week at their community organization, for a total of 25 to 30 hours during the semester. However, if your program requires a greater commitment from volunteers—in the number of hours per week and/or length of service commitment—you don't need to change your expectations to accommodate students. Clearly state your expectations. Students who can meet those requirements can select your organization with the understanding that they will exceed the community-engaged learning  requirement for their course.

When you provide us with information about the community-engaged learning opportunities you have available each semester, tell us how many students you feel you can supervise effectively, and provide a meaningful experience for. That way we won't exceed your capacity. Students usually have multiple community-engaged learning options to choose from. As they decide which to choose, they will consider location, schedule, type of position, the organization's mission, and their own experience or interests.

We can't guarantee that any students in a class you are partnered with will choose to work with your organization, so if you need a certain number of volunteers to keep your programs operating successfully, we strongly encourage you to recruit beyond U of M service-learning classes.

Typically, fall semester starts the day after Labor Day and runs through mid-December. Spring semester starts the day after Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and runs through early May. We always inform our community partners about the specific start and end dates of each semester. You can also find the U's academic calendar on the One Stop website.

When we're asked this question, we often respond by asking, "What would you do with any other volunteer in this situation?" While a student may have a community-engaged learning requirement for a class, you are not required to work with any particular student. This is one reason we require service-learning students to follow your normal volunteer application and interview process. That way you can make sure you and the student are a good fit for each other.

If problems arise with a student you have accepted as a volunteer, we ask you to try to resolve those problems first through direct communication with the student. If you are unable to reach the student, unable to resolve the difficulty, or if the student continues the problematic behavior, please contact one of our community-engaged coordinators right away. We are here to help everyone have a successful community-engaged learning experience. We'll work to resolve these situations however we can. We also want to be sure faculty members know about students who don't follow through on their commitments. You are welcome to communicate with faculty directly or go through us.

If you decide a student is unreliable or otherwise not working out for your organization, you may ask the student not to return, but we do ask that you notify us, so we can help that student find another way to fulfill his/her requirement.

We understand there are many, many demands on you and your colleagues' time, but we firmly believe that everyone can do on-site reflection. We view it as an important part of your role as a co-educator for community-engaged learning students. Reflection doesn't have to be a formal process. It can be as simple as a brief conversation about what a community-engaged learning student is feeling, observing, and thinking about while s/he is in your organization. For more information and ideas, visit our reflection page, and feel free to contact us if you have any questions.

Students' schedules change from semester to semester, and many students juggle classes, part- or full-time work, family obligations, and other activities. So it may be difficult for them to think about extending their commitment to you beyond their community-engaged learning course. If you want to encourage community-engaged learning students to stick around after their class ends, consider using the strategies you'd use to retain any volunteer. Simple steps might make that happens... You can provide a meaningful and rewarding experience. You can make sure the students know their work is valued, appreciated, and an important part of fulfilling your organization's mission. You can remind students about the value of relationships and continuity in your organization's work with clients and community members.

You can also ask students if they know about the Community Engagement Scholars Program, which formally recognizes U of M students who do various types of community involvement work. This can be an incentive for students to continue volunteering. While we don't track how many community-engaged learning students continue at their organizations after their community-engaged learning classes end, about 50% surveyed at the end of each community-engaged learning class say they do plan to continue their volunteer work. So it's definitely worth encouraging them to do so!