J.W. McConnell Family Foundation and UBC commit $2.5 million to enroll five per cent of students in community service learning

The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation has awarded the University of British Columbia a $1 million grant for a program that will see five per cent of undergraduate students – about 1,800 per year by 2011 – learning about their fields of study through short-term community service projects.

The grant, from a private foundation based in Montreal that supports initiatives to build healthy communities, will leverage a co-investment of $1.5 million from UBC to establish the UBC-Community Learning Initiative (UBC-CLI). The initiative builds on the experiences of UBC in a trend called Community Service Learning (CSL) that integrates service in the community with classroom learning.

Through the new UBC-CLI, groups of five to 15 students will participate in immersion-type courses offered three times a year (in January/February, May/June and July/August). The model builds on the University’s successes with community service since 1999 and in particular with UBC’s reading week community service projects. In 2006 those projects saw more than 300 students work with 1,000 inner city school children on projects covering subjects as diverse as peace and justice, literacy, nutrition, fitness, botany, animal habitats and fine arts.

“This grant will have a significant impact on the student experience at UBC, said UBC President Stephen J. Toope. “It reflects our desire to enhance students’ understanding of the connection between their education and their social responsibilities, and will help us to meet our Trek 2010 strategic plan commitment to serve communities in B.C. and beyond.”

A key aim of the initiative is to apply university resources to important community issues. The grant will help faculty members adapt their courses or design new courses that will connect students’ academic learning with real-life issues. Students will benefit from their experiences in community settings while providing organizations with the resources of UBC people, knowledge, and methods of inquiry.

“Our experience has been exceptionally positive,” says Margo Fryer, Assistant Professor in the School of Community and Regional Planning and Director of the new UBC-Community Learning Initiative, as well as Director of UBC’s Learning Exchange and President of the Canadian Association for CSL. “We have seen a range of beneficial outcomes. Community Service Learning helps students see the connection between what they are studying and real-life problems, and also gives them increased clarity about their career goals and motivates them to get involved in community issues.”

In addition to getting students involved in hands-on service and structured reflection activities, each course will integrate traditional university course elements such as lectures, readings, and assignments.

UBC has been developing CSL opportunities since 1999 through the UBC Learning Exchange, and has seen student participation grow from 30 in 1999 to more than 1,000 students last year. These students provide assistance to 40 Vancouver community organizations and schools.

The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation is a private family foundation established in 1937 by John Wilson McConnell (1877-1963). The Foundation funds initiatives of national significance that address challenges for Canadian society by engaging people, by building resilient communities, and by developing a strong knowledge base for the work that it supports.

Learn about UBC’s Community Service Learning projects: www.learningexchange.ubc.ca

Learn more about the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation: www.mcconnellfoundation.ca

Learn about the national CSL association: www.communityservicelearning.ca