$50,000 Grant Supports Matching Students with Community Learning Opportunities

The money will support integrating and increasing efforts to match volunteers and interns with community opportunities

UC Riverside’s Office of Undergraduate Education received a $50,000 grant to ramp up community-engaged learning opportunities for undergraduate students. The funds will help match students with community service opportunities related to their coursework.ucr

The University of California Riverside’s Office of Undergraduate Education has received a $50,000 grant to ramp up community-engaged learning opportunities for undergraduate students. The funds will help match students with community service opportunities related to their coursework.

The award, called a Collaborative Opportunity Grant, is from the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, or APLU, and the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities, or USU. Twelve universities received $50,000 each with the grant funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to encourage community partnerships that aim to improve student success.

At UCR, the money will support integrating and increasing efforts to match volunteers and interns with community opportunities, said Elizabeth Claassen Thrush, educational initiatives coordinator for Undergraduate Education. This includes streamlining and subsidizing the application and background check process, leading orientations for students, tracking interactions through an online learning module, providing opportunities for academic reflection, and generating reports. Key to this effort are four part-time student coordinators, paid by the grant, who oversee processes, advise students, and maintain communication with community partners.

“We are grateful for the opportunity to work together with Student Life, the Career Center, and numerous other partners across campus to expand opportunities for hands-on learning and service in the community,” Claassen Thrush said. “This grant has allowed us to deepen our community partnerships, especially with the Riverside Unified School District and The Community Foundation, our partners on this grant.”

In spring 2017, about 250 UCR students participated in some form of community-engaged learning.  Through seven courses across campus with a service-learning component, the students worked in Riverside and other regional school systems, in after-school programs, in libraries, and with local non-profit organizations.

In Spring 2017, about 250 UCR students participated in some form of community-engaged learning. ucr

“We are having a direct impact on our community,” said fourth-year student Karen Cruz-Zuniga, who is taking a Political Economy of Health course with a community service requirement. Cruz-Zuniga said her work in an afterschool program has improved her classroom skills.

In recent years, UCR has been among the top-ranked universities in the nation in a Washington Monthly magazine ranking that emphasizes civic engagement. Community service is addressed in the university’s 2020 Strategic Plan, which includes the following passage: “Every undergraduate student should have the opportunity to be involved in some community engagement activity (e.g., service learning course, community engagement research project, structured volunteerism, internship) that has a true academic component.”

In July, representatives from UCR and the 11 other universities to receive the grant will meet in Washington, D.C., to strategize and collaborate on their initiatives. Other universities that will receive the grant include California State University, Fresno; California State University, Northridge; California State University, Los Angeles; Cleveland State University; Fort Valley State University; Georgia State University; San Jose State University; the University of Maryland, Baltimore County; the University of Memphis; University of South Alabama; and University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.

Another application period will open early next year for additional APLU and USU institutions to apply for funding. Institutions currently receiving grants are eligible to re-apply for those grants, also for $50,000.

“We have to work with community partners to ensure students have the required resources to apply, the necessary instruction to be prepared for the rigor of college coursework, and the tools they need to thrive in the workforce and drive positive change in their communities,” said Shari Garmise, vice president of APLU’s Office of Urban Initiatives and the executive director of USU.

APLU is a research, policy, and advocacy organization that works to advance the work of public universities in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Its membership includes 235 public research universities, land-grant institutions, state university systems, and affiliated organizations. USU is an organization that encourages prosperity and opportunity in U.S. cities.

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