Student FAQ for Community-Engaged Learning

The community-engaged learning component of your class gives you the opportunity to learn by doing. Think of the community you're working with as a "lived text" for the class. Like your textbooks, lectures, and discussions, the community is a source of information about the concepts and issues covered in class. Though the time you spend volunteering is part of your homework for this course, community-engaged learning is more than homework. It's a way to get hands-on experience through your academic studies.

Think of your volunteer work as a "lived text" for your class, similar to the written text you're required to read for class. Your instructor doesn't grade you for the act of reading. Instead, you're graded on how much you learn from those readings, and how well you demonstrate that in papers and exams. You will be graded in a similar way for your community work. Class assignments may require you to articulate what you've learned volunteering, and how that connects the subject of the class. Your community-engaged learning class may also require you to complete a specific number of hours doing volunteer work. For that you may be graded in the same way you'd be graded for class attendance or class participation.

For most community-engaged learning classes, you are required to do reflection about your community work. Your reflection will help you connect that volunteer work to your studies and your life. Because of reflection activities, volunteer work done for a community-engaged learning class is different from other types of volunteer work.

The point of required hours is to be sure you have enough time to fulfill the learning objectives related to your volunteer work. This also helps your community organization plan for your time there and set their own expectations. In order to partner with the U of M's community-engaged learning program, community organizations must fulfill certain requirements themselves. These organizations have limited resources, so it's equally important for them to know that the time and effort they dedicate to hosting community-engaged learning students will benefit their goals too.

If you are you a current community-engaged learning student, you can log in to the secure site here. This site allows you to log your hours, complete a referral request, and more. If you have questions about using it, contact your designated service-learning coordinator.

Many students juggle classes, part-time or full-time work, family obligations, and other activities. We understand it can be difficult to find time for the volunteer work required for a community-engaged learning class. That's why most community-engaged learning classes require just 2 to 3 hours per week, and instructors decrease the course load (readings and other assignments) somewhat. Often you can choose to volunteer somewhere that will accommodate a schedule or location that's convenient for you. If you need help matching a volunteer opportunity to your needs, talk to your service-learning coordinator in the Center for Community-Engaged Learning. Be sure to do this at the beginning of the semester.

If you have trouble connecting with your organization, contact your service-learning coordinator as soon as possible so they can intervene. A semester goes by quickly, and it's easy to fall behind on your community-engaged learning requirements. We can help if you let us know what's happening.

When you do contact your community organization, be sure your e-mails and phone calls are always clear and professional. This will help you get a timely response. Be sure you provide your name, tell them you're from such-and-such community-engaged learning class at the University of Minnesota, and tell them the best way to reach you. When communicating by e-mail, use a descriptive subject line for your message, like "Getting Started with My Community-Engaged Learning," to help the recipient realize that you're working on an academic timetable.

Step 1: Have a conversation with your supervisor at the organization. Start with a positive approach. You might want to mention that you chose this organization because you feel you can learn a lot from the experience there, and/or you feel you can make a strong contribution to its work because of your skills and interests. Ask your supervisor if you can revisit your position description together.

Step 2: If you aren't able to resolve your concerns after talking with your supervisor, contact your community-engaged learning coordinator at the Center for Community-Engaged Learning. If your community-engaged learning coordinator can't find a resolution that works for everybody, she will help you find another option for fulfilling your community-engaged learning requirement for your course.

It's important to realize that your time commitment to an organization is small (2 to 3 hours per week). Most organizations have limited resources, and they will need to balance the time and effort they put into training and supervising you. Nonetheless, one of the key goals of community-engaged learning is to allow students to provide relevant and meaningful service in the community. Your community-engaged learning coordinators work with community partners to be sure you have that opportunity.

It's important to know that whatever work you do at a community organization, it may have more impact than you first realize. For example, if you're keeping a child busy while his/her parents are in a parenting class or in a job-skills workshop, you may think you're just babysitting. In reality, you're allowing those parents to improve their family's quality of life, and you're helping the organization provide services to parents who might not be able to take advantage of them otherwise. If you're stuffing envelopes at an organization, those envelopes may carry a fundraising request to hundreds of donors on whom the organization relies to carry out its work. Whatever your position within the organization, we encourage you to learn as much as you can about the organization's work and how your efforts fit into it. Don't be afraid to ask questions that will help you understand your experience and connect it to what you're learning in class.

If you really feel like you're not getting anything meaningful out of your experience with the organization, see Step 1 and Step 2 in the previous answer.

Volunteer Locations

cropped image of a community organization (Outfront) tabling at the Community Involvement Fair