Symposium strengthens community-service learning

Researchers, practitioners, students and community partners from across Canada and the US came together on March 27 and 28 for the Kitty Lundy Community-Service Learning Research Symposium hosted by the Experiential Education (EE) program in York’s Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies. The symposium concentrated on developing opportunities for strengthening community service-learning (CSL) research in a Canadian context.

Left: Rhonda Lenton

CSL is an educational approach that integrates service in the community with intentional learning activities. Members of educational institutions and community organizations work together toward mutually beneficial outcomes. CSL brings together and engages multiple stakeholders including students, faculty and organizations. In Canada, CSL is a fast-growing phenomenon – 33 colleges and universities have implemented programs, 30 of which are curricular or course-based. At York, CSL is a component of Atkinson’s successful EE program (see YFile, April 24, 2007), which has matched 2,000 students with over 250 organizations in the last year and continues to expand.

"CSL builds on our growing commitment to engaging students in the classroom and linking them to the community," said Atkinson Associate Dean Martha Rogers. "By bringing together a carefully selected group of practitioners and researchers working in the field, we hoped to make significant advancements in CSL research, while pointing to possible collaborations that could take place across universities and communities."

The first part of the event was a public lecture on the evening of March 27, followed by a CSL Practitioner’s Forum on March 28. The public lecture included presentations by experts in CSL research and engagement in Canada. Atkinson Dean Rhonda Lenton opened the evening by discussing the broader context of university-community engagement and the potential that exists for educational and research partnerships.

Right: Sherril Gelmon

"The York University-Black Creek Satellite initiative plan that will launch this fall [see YFileOct. 13, 2006] is one anchor that will support an increasingly strong experiential education program that benefits our students and our community," said Lenton. "Students receive hands-on learning opportunities, which inform the classroom experience and a sense of civic responsibility, while working with our partners on defining societal needs and sharing expertise and skills that build the societal capacity."

Sherril Gelmon, founding chair of the International Association for Research on Service-Learning and Community Engagement, talked about why CSL is relevant in terms of strengthening communities, supporting research and innovation and affecting student development. Colleen Loomis, associate director research of the Wilfrid Laurier Centre for Community Service Learning, led the main part of the lecture, focusing on CSL research in Canada and stressing the need for further study.

Left: Colleen Loomis

"What we are trying to do is develop a healthy society and that means engaging people of all ages," said Loomis. "We’re trying to impact social issues; we’re trying to impact education and how it’s delivered in a university setting; we’re trying to impact individual lives and make a difference for people who are served by community organizations."

At the Practitioners’ Forum, led by Gelmon and Loomis, participants addressed the critical question of "How do we know that our work in communities makes a difference?" Several positive outcomes emerged. Given the number of multi-stakeholders involved with CSL, the group highlighted the importance of approaching CSL research from a multidisciplinary, multi-angled perspective. They also emphasized the need for increased partnerships and knowledge exchange.

"The symposium was an ideal place to bring together experts in the field to address the gaps in research and to hear each other’s struggles and success stories," said Geoff Webb, senior manager of Atkinson’s EE program. "We developed a number of research items to further develop. Many of us plan on partnering in the future to generate research approaches that will enhance and contribute to CSL research in a national and international context."

Left: Geoff Webb

The Research Symposium was made possible thanks to the Kitty Lundy Memorial Fund and the generosity of the Lundy Family.

For more information on the symposium, contact Natasha Hargovan, experiential education coordinator, at ext. 20954 or e-mail