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Shasta College Center for Community Engagement

01/07/2015 10:31AM ● By Claudia Mosby

Take a Leap

January 2015
By Claudia Mosby

Whether it was the Buddha or the theosophists who said, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear,” matters perhaps less than the ability to recognize that teacher when she shows up.

The students in question were those from the Shasta College Student Senate and the teacher, sociology instructor Heather Wylie, their faculty advisor.

“They were asking legitimate questions like, ‘How is what I’m learning in the classroom translatable to the job market?’” says Wylie. “As an educator, I became interested.”

That interest led in 2010 to the formation of the Shasta College Center for Community Engagement, funded through a grant from Shasta College’s Economic Workforce Development Division. Four years in, the Center has a series of California State University transferable courses on civic engagement and community service learning as well as the weight of the institution behind it.

“Service learning is an important part of reaching our goal of having students’ success improve through engagement with other educational institutions, businesses and community organizations,” says Shasta College President Joe Wyse.

More than a clearinghouse for student volunteers, the Center promotes service learning, which is course-based education combined with thoughtful reflection by students on their contributions to a local nonprofit or business.

Joseph Soto Hockenberry, one of Wylie’s former students, found his experience as an outreach educator with Women’s Health Specialists so beneficial that he continued to volunteer with the organization after the semester ended.

“I’m definitely an introvert,” says Soto Hockenberry, who is now pursuing a degree at San Jose State University. “I asked about doing something behind the scenes, where I didn’t have to deal with people. I just didn’t think I had the skills to do that sort of thing.”

After his bid for another placement fell through, he agreed to the outreach educator opportunity as a result of Wylie’s encouragement. “I was a pretty focused student anyway, but this really helped me socially,” he adds. “I found a network of people to turn to that I didn’t have before the program started. I was even offered a part-time job as a result of my work with them.”

Wylie confirms Soto Hockenberry’s experience is not unique. “Anecdotally, I’ve had five of my own service learning students offered jobs,” she says. “And we have had a number of students qualify for grants to continue their education as a result of the service learning they have undertaken.”

The benefit, however, is mutual. Organizations that partner with the Center have an opportunity to work with a diverse student population, says Wylie—one that can bring new ideas and new ways of thinking to meet project needs an organization does not have the
person power or expertise to complete.

Eddie McAllister, President of Shasta County Citizens Advocating Respect (SCCAR), had a Center student help gather data about youths’ understanding of the issues SCCAR addresses, something he wanted a “cultural insider” to direct.

“She worked with teens, developing a survey to find out what they were saying and thinking about their safety at school and in the community,” says McAllister. “This was a real benefit to us because getting more youth involved in SCCAR is one of our goals.”

Another Center student worked with McAllister on a Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 257 project, which features town hall meetings on the subject of Agent Orange and a Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day to be held in March.

Community partners are viewed as co-educators, says Wylie, but that education flows in both directions. Case in point: the Youth Violence Prevention Council, a Center community partner, had been assigning low-level offenders through the court system to community service. “We’ve gotten away from using the phrase ‘community service’ because it sounds punitive,” adds Wylie. “It is something you get assigned when you get into trouble.”

As a result, the Council reframed its requirement as a “community service-learning project,” emphasizing the use of participant skills to benefit others. A recent project focused on beautifying a local park.

The Center has now partnered with Reach Higher Shasta, a countywide initiative to encourage educational preparedness in K-12 and college. Businesses and nonprofits will use the Reach Higher Shasta web portal to articulate their needs and opportunities for service learning and internships, and the Shasta College Center for Community Engagement will serve as the clearinghouse.

“We’re fairly good at getting students to college, but the Center is about helping make that next leap from college to career,” adds Wylie. “Through the Center, we’re helping our students to develop networks in our community and explore career pathways.”