The University of Iowa has opened a new office to coordinate campus volunteers with local agencies that could use the help. Mary Mathew Wilson is program coordinator for the Civic Engagement Office. Mathew-Wilson says it’s important to “put a face on volunteerism and service learning at the University of Iowa.” The office will provide community-based organizations with a “portal into the university” so they can tap into the people willing to volunteer when they need someone. University of Iowa president David Skorton’s declared this a “Year of Public Engagement” for the school, sharpening its focus on public issues and service. Mathew-Wilson says her newly-created office is not just for students.Faculty who are developing “service learning courses,” and seeking community partners want to give their students an experience to tie in to their learning. It’ll be more than just volunteering, the aim’s to reflect through their service work the kind of material students have learned in the class. It’s also for staff who’ve been wanting to connect with the community and found it hard. She notes “President Skorton has charged us with being a more engaged university, and that’s what we’re plannin’ to do,” she says cheerfully. Mathews Wilson says students who become part of the school’s public-engagement effort are likely to turn out to be better members of the communities where they’ll live. It’s not just a “feel good” experience for them, she says, it’s something that enhances their learning and increases their “skill-set.” When they grow up and settle in a community it also means they’ll be more likely to be involved in that community. She says the service learning may be similar to an internship, though a more short-term commitment, and in some “service-learning” classes, the volunteer work will be an optional component.
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