As Bentley strives to offer the highest quality education to its student body, the Bentley Service-Learning Center (BSLC) is revamping its program to give students more opportunities to serve their community while further exploring their academic interests.
Dr. Edward Zlotkowski, Director of the Center and a Professor in the English and Media Studies Department, is eager to introduce the new and exciting innovations the program will see next semester.
The service-learning program was started back in 1991 by Dr. Zlotkowski with the purpose of connecting business-oriented students with community organizations that needed various kinds of assistance. The experience outside of the Bentley campus was meant to link what students learned inside the classroom to issues in the real world, “preparing students for citizenship as well as a career.” Year after year, this program still receives countless undergraduates eager to work more closely with their community. Its success can mostly be attributed to the fact that even with incredibly busy schedules, students are given the chance to constructively spend their time at a job or cause they believe in while earning a 4th-credit and gaining invaluable skills. The management and structure of the BSLC allow for constant feedback across all parties involved and with that the program grows every day through positive referrals. Today, more than 50 community partners are affiliated with the service-learning program and more than 600 students have demonstrated their desire to serve in community projects this year alone.
With all this success, Dr. Zlotkowski is still looking to perfect the program by further developing the quality of the relationships established between community partners and Bentley.
“We want to improve the program’s ability to contribute to students’ academic learning, personal development and civic engagement,” said Dr. Zlotkowski.
In order to do so, the program is now working more closely with professors and departments involved to get the best sense of the kind of work courses can offer. Traditionally, many of the service projects have been geared towards tutoring of some kind, but Dr. Zlotkowski wants to offer students more chances to work on business-related initiatives, including accounting, finance, marketing opportunities and more.
In some ways service-learning resembles an internship, but there are important differences. The first difference is that in service-learning the partners involved are chosen on a need-basis. The second and core difference is the emphasis on the social goals the non-profit organization strives to accomplish. This helps the students involved to more readily understand the impact social issues have on the communities they are working with while gaining experience within their field. The significance of civic engagement can truly be understood through exposure and experience. There is no better way to complete a university education than with hours of service that personally connects one with the community and its needs.
One innovation the service-learning program would like to see more of is community-based projects that can take the place of a case study, paper, exam, or presentation required in a course. Such embedded projects would encourage a deeper commitment and stronger connection to both the program and the course itself as students apply their knowledge to real world problems. Bentley University is an incredibly prestigious business school that not only connects students with top firms, but also with businesses in its own backyard. The BSLC is a unique program that stimulates undergraduates to not only devote their time and effort to big picture issues, but also to issues that are more local but equally significant. It is refreshing to attend a university that places such importance on the well-being of its community and the organizations that try to strengthen that community as best they can.
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