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Program Overview

Lee University’s formal service-learning program was founded for the purpose of helping students develop a sense of responsibility' for the common good. In accordance with Parks’s developmental theory, the university strives to provide a mentoring community' that will guide students in their meaning-making through service-learning. In particular, the program seeks to cultivate a commitment to “redemptive service,” one of the institution’s three core values. According to the Lee University website, redemptive service is:

an expression of ethical action that recognizes the brokenness of the fallen world and engages in labor (under the inspiration and empowerment of the Holy Spirit) for its divinely ordained healing and renewal. Therefore, redemptive service not only carries out benevolent intervention on behalf of the needy, it also seeks to identify and address the causes of sociopolitical and economic deprivation, and tirelessly labors to eradicate systemic social evils.

(Lee University, 2020a, para. 7)

The ultimate goal of Lee University’s service-learning program is for students to internalize their individual responsibility for the flourishing of the world through the eradication of social and economic injustice. Thus, the program embraces the commitment to social justice envisioned by the pioneers of service-learning within the context of student faith development.

The university’s current service-learning program was conceived and developed in 1999 as the result of a transformational gift from an external foundation. The benefactor became a Pentecostal believer late in life through a dramatic conversion experience. He had been a near alcoholic with a failing business when a Church of God pastor facilitated his conversion to Christianity'; subsequently, his business became extraordinarily' profitable. Believing that the change in his life was a miracle directly from God, he decided to give his fortune to those most needy. Eventually, he expanded his benevolence to include the training of Lee University' students in the biblical basis for benevolence. In particular, the donor specifically required that the university’s program focus on teaching students to take responsibility for those in need, that it include an academic component in the general education core, and that it be directly tied to the biblical mandate for service. Consequently, the goals of the university’s servicelearning program explicitly reflected these commitments. According to the university’s service-learning website (Lee University, 2020b, para. 2), the program seeks to produce students who:

  • • Understand the biblical mandate for service.
  • • Recognize that service to others is part of God’s purpose for them and that it flows from his design of their uniqueness.
  • • Have insight into appropriate service—its source, its meaning, and its impact on both the performer and the recipient.
  • • Understand how they can use their vocation to serve God and others.

To achieve these goals, the service-learning program includes a required course, the Biblical and Theological Foundations for Benevolence, taken in the first year. Students must also complete a minimum of 10 service hours per semester up to 80 hours. The service-learning program is managed by the staff of the Leonard Center, named in honor of a Church of God pastor who led the benefactor to Christ. As recommended by Eyler and Giles (1999), every structured service experience, regardless of its format, is accompanied by a reflection. For service-embedded courses, reflections are part of the academic work of the course. For service-learning experiences completed outside a course, reflection may be written or may be completed orally with the service group. Written reflections are evaluated according to a rubric that reflects the goals of moving students along the continuum of faith development as articulated by Parks (2011).

For most majors, as much as 50% of the service-hour requirement can be completed through service-enhanced courses in the discipline, including gateway and capstone courses. Some departments also offer department-wide service opportunities that are tied to the discipline, but not to any specific course. Ideally, service offered through the major is developmental, beginning with the assumption that students have, at best, a probing commitment to service, and with the goal of leading them to a more tested commitment. In these cases, the department serves as the student’s mentoring community, a key component of Parks’s (2011) framework.

A good example of this intentional mentoring and development throughout an academic discipline is the major in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). In the TESOL major’s introductory course, the instructor presents the social needs the TESOL program addresses, and students have an opportunity to observe in the English Learning Center (ELC), an intensive language-learning program for nonnative English speakers in the Cleveland community. The ELC is operated entirely by the students and faculty of the university’s TESOL program and attracts more than 100 local residents each week. Participants are typically newly-arrived immigrants from around the world who are facing all of the challenges immigration presents. Because the English classes are free, the ELC typically attracts people who are economically marginal. The ELC provides lessons for children and childcare for those too young for formal instruction, as well as a program for high school students that involves English instruction and social mentoring. The faculty member who teaches the introductory course also directs the ELC and mentors students through their first exposure to the range of challenges it presents. From this experience, students gain insight and perspective on what it means to teach English Language Learners (ELLs), and the TESOL faculty meet regularly with new majors as they develop their commitment to serving this community.

At the next level, students take English Language Center Seminar, a course that prepares them to design and deliver instruction in the ELC under the supervision of their mentoring instructor. TESOL majors also have service experiences in two additional courses in the major, Teaching Grammar to English Language Learners and ESL Curriculum Design and Assessment. Some of these experiences arc related to the ELC while others introduce students to wider ELL populations, including those outside the United States. The TESOL methods course marks the culmination of this development and includes a 30-hour practicum, usually as full-fledged teachers in the ELC. By the time students reach their capstone course in their discipline, they have had a series of significant developmental experiences intended to guide them from probing commitment to the earliest stages of tested commitment. Further, this sequence is intended to guide them from fragile to confident inner dependence. TESOL majors choose this discipline because of their desire to serve others through language development, but the TESOL faculty conscientiously builds on that tentative commitment.

Beyond hours earned through major courses, students’ remaining hours come from a variety of sources: 10 hours are completed as part of the freshman seminar course, which begins with “Deke Day” (short for deacon, traditionally a service role in Pentecostal churches), a day of service occurring during New Student Orientation; 10 additional hours arc included in a service project embedded in the required Biblical and Theological Foundations of Benevolence course; and remaining hours can be completed through individually arranged projects, campus-wide service days, weekend service events, or projects organized by residence halls, clubs, choirs, and sports teams. Additionally, the Leonard Center offers a range of on-going programs that engage students for multiple semesters.

Launched in the early days of campus-wide service programs, the university’s service-learning program is now a central part of the campus ethos. More than 14,000 students have completed the service-learning program at Lee University since the first class graduated in 2004. At each graduation rehearsal since spring 2007, the Leonard Center has offered graduates the option of signing a service pledge, committing to lifelong service, and receiving a commemorative pin. More than 81% of Lee University graduates have chosen to sign the pledge since 2007, and 98% of students in the most recent graduating class (spring 2019) signed the pledge, which stated:

As I prepare to graduate from Lee University I commit to a lifestyle of service. I understand that service to others is a biblical mandate and recognize that it is part of God’s purpose for my life. Through my experiences at Lee University, I have begun to develop insight into how service impacts others and myself. Therefore I pledge to pursue social justice and benevolence in an effort to use the gifts God has given me to administer His grace to others.

 
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