Experiential Learning in Action

Service Learning/Civic Engagement Model

Students put their academic knowledge to work for the community by teaming up with a local nonprofit organization to provide a necessary service. Supporting social justice goals and working towards social change are integrated with professional development and intellectual growth.

Since 2003, a course in the writing department called Proposals, Grants, and Reports has been offered by assistant professor Patricia Spencer as a service learning opportunity. Students discover what it takes to write effective grant proposals by working directly with a variety of social service organizations that are seeking funding from a range of private and governmental sources. 

By partnering with local organizations, students are introduced to the challenges that face proposal writers; simultaneously, the organizations benefit from students’ written responses to these challenges. Spencer comments, “Nonprofit administrators are always juggling several conflicting realities—social, political, financial—within a limited time period and with a limited staff. That is what I want my students to get a taste of. I hope they leave with the belief that even within these constraints they can affect social change—not just do good, but really facilitate strategic change with a written proposal for the benefit of communities.” 

Student-written proposals have generated thousands of dollars for these organizations. In fall 2006, the Natural Areas Commission (NAC) of Ithaca, New York, as a direct result of the efforts of the student grant development team and of its first student intern, Jessica Langan-Peck ’07, received $7,000 in support.