Wednesday morning, the 2008 Summit drew to a conclusion with two final sessions including "Engaging the Next Generation: Lessons from the New Service Society."
Based on a 2006 statistic which found that one third of undergraduates are engaged in volunteer work and community activism, panelists discussed the benefits of service learning.
Eric Mlyn speaking at Summit.
Naysayers declare that the role of the university is to help students interpret the world rather than work to change it and that civic engagement only detracts from higher education's core mission. Admitedly, Eric J. Mlyn, the director of DukeEngage, part of the university's new Center for Civic Engagement says, "This program is not without controversy." Rather, he argues that service work is a critical supplement to class lecture and academic learning.
One audience member, a public policy major at University of North Carolina, spoke on behalf of the Millenial generation to say that college students and recent graduates are finding more satisfaction in service work than political involvement. A sentiment that may account for the parallel differences between civic engagment and voter turnout.
"We've seen that the popular vote hasn't mattered in recent years," the student explained, adding that service work is more fulfilling.
Amy B. Cohen, director of Learn and Serve America, Corporation for National and Community Service, shared that research points to marked professional success among college graduates who engage in service work before, during or immediately after their college experience.
"The research shows that [AmeriCorps] students go on to earn significant salaries," Cohen responded to a question posed about the metrics related to service learning.
Michael Brown, CEO and co-founder of CityYear, talked about the need for a cultural shift beginning in grades K-8.
"Service should be part of the life of any institution," he said. "Service to the community is essential. The problems of poverty, rural and urban issues are all inter-connected."
There was also great discussion about study abroad programs, which traditionally exist in civilized, European countries. The director of DukeEngage says the university is pushing for study abroad semesters to take place in nations where civic engagement is more desperately needed. His comments prompted more in-depth discussion about where students are allowed to travel by their universities. For example, Mlyn shared, Duke University students had been prohibited from studying in Israel since 2000 when the State Department flagged Israel as an unsafe country for American travel. In reality, Mlyn said, only Gaza and the West Bank are dangerous territories. Recently, Duke lifted the study abroad ban on Israel, though it remains on the State Department's list.
Hillel's role in the service learning experience, was repeatedly highlighted, with panelists making frequent reference to alternative spring and winter break trips as well as Hillel's numberous social justice initiatives.
"Hillel is at the forefront," said Brown. "It's a question of how that leadership can be focused. How can [Hillel programming] be enhanced?"
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