Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

The first-year experience should require service learning

Melanie Westfall

Few classes make time for escaping the rigid classroom environment and attending to the local Austin community’s needs. UGS Signature Courses should have a required service-learning component to encourage students to involve themselves in the community they often miss out on.

In-class service learning can help to introduce students to communities and causes they never knew about. A study from the Higher Education Research Center at The University of California, Los Angeles showed service learning can lead to significant improvements in academic performance, leadership, values and commitment to service after college. 

Currently, the First-Year Experience Office, which houses Signature Courses as well as the Freshman Interest Group, FIG, and Transfer Interest Group, TRIG, programs, recommends students participate in some form of service learning. But because FIGs and TRIGs do not require attendance and are ungraded, attendance rates at those service-learning events are subpar.

The First-Year Experience Office does not record how many students participate in service learning. Self-reported student data from 1300 FIG students showed only 37 percent of FIG students participated in a form of service learning in their FIGs. While it appears the recommendation has had some success, there is no doubt that a required and graded component would increase student participation.

Last semester, when I worked as a FIG mentor, my students often attributed absences in FIG activities to being overworked elsewhere. By making service learning a required component of Signature Courses, students would have had an incentive to prioritize work that many studies have shown add fulfillment to their lives both through their grades and in their goals.

Kristen Kelly, a linguistics and Iberian and Latin American languages and cultures sophomore, participated in three courses which required service and believes the requirement made it easier to volunteer, despite her hectic schedule. 

“I feel like without the classes and professors introducing us to nonprofits and giving us the contacts, I would not have gotten involved,“ said Kelly. “Or if I had, I wouldn’t be as involved as I am now.”

The First-Year Experience Office is moving in the right direction. Some of their programs implement service learning, such as FIGs and a select few Signature Courses, but adding a requirement in all Signature Courses encourages students to prioritize it in ways ungraded courses do not afford.

Brent Iverson, dean of the School of Undergraduate Studies, which houses the First-Year Experience Office, believes that service learning has great value for students.

“I’m really encouraged by this generation of students who generally feel like it’s good to get out in the community and do good.”

The dean and Office of First-Year Experience should consider expanding the scope of service learning to all UGS Signature Courses in order to ensure all first-year students get the chance to experience working in their community. My views of the world has fundamentally changed because of my volunteering. No student should have to miss out on helping in the community because their course load does not permit it.

Treuthardt is a marketing and journalism sophomore from Allen. Follow him on Twitter @jamestreuthardt.

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The first-year experience should require service learning