March 25, 2013 | Matt Kucinski

Calvin College has been named to the 2013 President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll, the highest federal recognition a college or university can receive for its commitment to volunteering, service-learning and civic engagement. This is Calvin’s second time being so honored. (The college was recognized previously in 2009.)

“Receiving this award is another reminder, to ourselves, our partners, and the larger society, of what Calvin College values,” said Jeff Bouman, director of Calvin’s service-learning center.

The Corporation for National and Community Service administers the annual honor roll award. Honorees were chosen based on a series of selection factors including the scope and innovation of service projects, the percentage of student participation in service activities, incentives for service and the extent to which the school offers academic service-learning courses.

Practicing theory

Calvin College’s service learning center reports that 2,200 students completed almost 4,000 service-learning opportunities during the 2011-2012 academic year. The total time logged by those students: more than 55,000 hours.

“At Calvin we are committed to more than the theoretical engagement with the surrounding community and world—we are committed to understanding, learning from, and participating in the world-changing that God is about in the cosmos all around us,” said Bouman. “Service-learning, for nearly 50 years now has been an engine that enables theory to touch practice.”

Commitment to community

Fueling that engine are the longstanding community partnerships Calvin has maintained in the city of Grand Rapids. Since 1964, the college and Grand Rapids Public Schools have partnered to create tutoring and mentoring opportunities for Calvin students. For the past 15-plus years, Calvin’s seven residence halls have maintained on-going partnerships with local nonprofit organizations. And, since 1993, Calvin has provided all first-year students with an introduction to service-learning and the city of Grand Rapids, through its annual StreetFest program.

Bouman says the college is partnering more and more with the growing Hispanic and Latino communities in Grand Rapids, through partnerships with Cook Library Center, the Hispanic Center of West Michigan, United Church Outreach Ministries, Cesar Chavez elementary school and Roosevelt Park Church, among others.

“I hear stories every day about how Calvin College students’ learning has been enhanced through service-learning opportunities,” said Bouman. “Their language learning; their nursing practice; their teaching skills; their ability to critically comprehend complex issues like immigration, wage theft, illiteracy, community development and organizing for change—all of these and many more are practical and theoretical skills that service-learning placements enable and encourage.”

Reaching into the classroom, abroad

Bouman says that academically based service-learning is a hallmark of a Calvin education and it is something that in recent years has extended into Calvin’s semester abroad programming. For example, in Ghana and Peru, a course in ethnography puts students in contact with service placements. And, in Budapest, Hungary, students are benefiting from 20 newly developed ESL placements.

“We may not, we must not, we do not exist in an ivory tower bubble,” said Bouman of the Calvin College community. “Recognition like this award encourages us to continue creatively and effectively engaging with community partners, primarily in Grand Rapids, but also regionally with our spring break trips, as well as around the world on study abroad semester programs.”

See the full list of honored colleges and universities.

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