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    Beyond the Classroom to the Laboratory of Life

    Opportunities abound for Christian college students to develop marketable skills while ministering to others.

    Diane Vescovi

    Christian colleges and universities excel at offering students the prospect of learning as they serve. Some are distinctly faith-based, while others are geared more generally toward community needs, but all these opportunities enable students to apply their classroom knowledge to making life better for others.

    The right application of knowledge is a hallmark of wisdom, the ultimate goal of learning for people of faith: "Get wisdom, and whatever else you get, get insight." (Proverbs 4:7) Not surprisingly then, Christian schools give due attention to service-learning because it turns knowledge into wisdom, at the same time building character and fostering a sense of caring.

    From this sense of caring, Christian schools make meaningful contributions to their communities and constituencies and to the nation as a whole. Concern for social justice, building community, and becoming agents of peace and reconciliation characterize the educational goals at these institutions of higher learning. Their educational purpose includes setting Christ followers on countless paths of work and life, all the while urging them toward academic excellence.

    Christian schools work intentionally at preparing students to be effective in their fields by taking their learning outside the classroom and into the laboratory of life. "Students gain greater knowledge of themselves, the world, how to work with others, and how to solve problems," says Greg Carmer, dean of A.J. Gordon Chapel at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts.

    Today's students may even go to college with a bent toward service-learning. A Roper survey indicates that "Millennials," those born between 1980 and 2000, are a confident and hopeful generation that has a high rate of volunteerism. "We consistently see more than 60 percent of Seaver students (from the college of liberal arts) engaged in service every year," says Brad Dudley, director of the volunteer and career center at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California.

    Not only does service-learning resonate with youth today, but it broadens their skill set and perspectives on life, and prepares them to confidently take on adult responsibilities.

    Preparing for the Future

    Gordon's director of career services, Pamela B. Lazarakis, has learned from job recruiters' feedback that service-learning plays an important role in their evaluation of candidates. A financial services recruiter confirmed that service-learning was a positive factor in the hiring process, because it suggests a candidate possesses desirable traits such as self-initiative and entrepreneurial thinking and strong relationship-building skills.

    Lazarakis says a recruiter for a large social service organization drew a correlation between service-learning and the attributes of maturity, ability to work independently, and having an approach of kindness and compassion when working with the clients that they serve. In addition, a manager of talent acquisition for a national manufacturing company responded that she finds these job candidates are able to effectively juggle multiple priorities, interact with different communities, and understand the importance of community involvement.

    At Pepperdine, Dudley finds that students engaged in service-learning get an opportunity to clarify their goals for work. For instance, he says, "Many of the students who serve in Jumpstart (with preschoolers) are not teacher education students; however, quite a few of them realize their interest in teaching during the year they serve."

    "We encourage all of our students to get involved in some form of service, but it takes different shapes depending on a student's interests and abilities," says Matthew Reitnour, director of admission at Houghton College (Houghton, N.Y.). He explains that the business department sponsors a tax workshop for accounting students to help local residents file their income tax forms. The chemistry department provides water analysis and the education department sponsors reading events in local schools.

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