Diversity & Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures
Diversity Innovations Institutional Leadership and Commitment
Diversity Digest Volume 9, Number 1

Diversity Digest
Volume 9,
Number 1

Download our print issue (PDF)
Campus-Community Connections
The Civic Work of Diversity
Educating Multicultural Community Builders: Service Learning at California State University Monterey Bay
Education for Democracy: Place Matters
In the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina
Curricular Transformation
Narrative and Community: Civic Engagement and the Work of Diversity
Promoting Cross-Cultural Understanding for Students of Science and Technology
Research Shows Benefits of Linking Diversity and Civic Goals
Diversity and Civic Engagement Outcomes Ranked Among Least Important
Academic Service Learning for Effective Civic Engagement
Faculty Involvement
There Is No Substitute for Experience
Student Experience
The Personal Is Still Political: HIV/AIDS Education and Prevention
Institutional Leadership and Committment
Communicating Common Ground
Resources for Diversity and Civic Engagement
The Civic Engagement Imperative: Student Learning and the Public Good

There Is No Substitute for Experience

By Paul Sather, director of the Service-Learning Academy, and Nora Bacon, associate professor of English, both of the University of Nebraska at Omaha

In January of 2005, the Service-Learning Academy at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) put the adage “There is no substitute for experience” into action by involving thirteen faculty members in a “community-based” faculty development seminar. The weeklong South Omaha Seminar familiarized faculty members with the Latino community in South Omaha and gave them an opportunity to experience service-learning firsthand. The seminar acquainted participants with the history and culture of South Omaha, introduced them to the network of social service agencies serving the community, and developed their cultural competence. It also successfully demonstrated how academic and experiential learning strategies inform each other in service-learning courses.

The seminar focused on faculty rather than students for several reasons. First, “buy-in” by faculty members is essential to the creation of sustained and broadly based service-learning programs. In a 2000 study of forty-five colleges and universities, Rebecca Bell and her colleagues found that the strongest predictor for institutionalizing service learning on college campuses is faculty involvement and support. Second, quality service-learning courses attract students and provide meaningful community engagement only when faculty members construct appropriate service-learning projects—that is, when they understand the concepts of partnership and reciprocity, approach community-based work in a spirit of inquiry, and integrate community-service experiences with course learning goals. Third, while faculty members are often interested in developing deeper community connections, they often lack opportunities to become acquainted with community leaders and organizations.

A faculty development initiative that involves experiential, community-based work requires the cooperation of key players on campus and in the community. The planning and implementation of the South Omaha seminar was a highly collaborative endeavor from start to finish.

On campus, researchers associated with the Office of Latino and Latin American Studies (OLLAS) planned presentations on Latino immigration to Nebraska, the history of South Omaha, the role of Latinos in regional and national politics, and issues of identity and acculturation.

In the community, a group of directors and program managers from five nonprofit agencies planned an immersion experience for faculty. They arranged meetings with key community leaders and introduced faculty to key religious institutions, the local police precinct, the state of housing stock, and the pace of work at a local meat packing plant. In addition, they presented essential information about health issues in the community, the difficulties facing immigrant women, and successes and challenges of business development. Finally, two recent immigrants agreed to share stories from their experiences.

A crucial element of the seminar was the two-day placement of faculty members in the agencies where they were to act as service-learning students. At this stage, eight community agencies were involved: the Chicano Awareness Center, El Museo Latino, Family Housing Advisory Services, the Juan Diego Center, the Immigrant Rights Network, the Latina Resource Center, One World Health, and Project Omaha. At each agency, staff provided a brief orientation to the agency and then involved the faculty members in hands-on service activities.

Some service projects were closely linked with the professor’s expertise: a
professor of counseling conducted a mini-workshop on crisis intervention for the staff of a walk-in multiservice agency; a professor of foreign languages assisted in translating documents at a health center; an instructor in communication led a goals-articulation workshop for clients at a women’s resource center; a linguist began an investigation of school-based resources for learning English as a second language. Other projects were less discipline-
specific, but all were designed to enrich participants’ understanding of South Omaha’s culture, needs, and assets and of the Latino immigrant experience.

The week closed with a morning of reflection, course planning, and evaluation. All thirteen participants indicated that the seminar had significantly increased their understanding of the Latino community. A comparison of scores on pre- and post-tests confirms this perception. Participants’ reflections and evaluative comments were equally relevant. One faculty member, a Cuban American who had grown up in South Omaha, commented on the personal sense of empowerment she gained as she saw possibilities for linking her academic work with her home community. Another respondent observed, “I am so glad UNO gave me this opportunity. I’ve wanted to do this for a long time, but didn’t know where to begin.”

To date, six of the participants have revised existing courses or developed new service-learning courses to involve students with nonprofit agencies serving South Omaha in the next academic year. In January, a similarly designed North Omaha Seminar will expose faculty to community-based service-learning opportunities in Omaha’s historically African American community, which has a long tradition of partnerships with the university. We hope to offer both seminars on a rotating basis in the future.


Bell, R., et al. 2000. Institutionalizing service-learning in higher education: Findings from a study of the Western Region Campus Compact Consortium. Bellingham, WA: Western Region Campus Compact Consortium.

Questions, comments, and suggestions regarding Diversity & Democracy should be directed to Kathryn Peltier Campbell at campbell@aacu.org.
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