As a key component of Sustainability History Project (SHP) courses, students complete at least five hours of volunteer community service during the academic quarter. Ideally, this service will be with the organization that the student is concentrating on for the oral history interview, but final choice for the focus of the service component will be left up to the student, with instructor approval.
There are two important motivations behind the community service component of this course. The first is to help fulfill Portland State University’s educational objectives. These objectives are described in the four University Studies goals: 1) Inquiry and Critical Thinking; 2) Communication; 3) The Diversity of Human Experience; 4) Ethics and Social Responsibility. By working directly with community members in a service learning environment, students then achieve PSU’s mission to “Let Knowledge Serve the City.”
The second important motivation for the SHP community service component is for students to have another opportunity to get off campus, supplement their intellectual development with hands-on experiences, and, in these ways, to learn more about how sustainability is manifest in the work of regional organizations. Students are encouraged (but not required) to combine their essay topic, the work of their interviewee, and their community service. By combining these aspects of the course, students can deepen their understanding of the course readings, their own research, the information provided by the interviewee, and the work that the organization does in the community.
Students share their community service experiences with their peers in class. Students are also given the opportunity to provide a ~250-word write-up of their experiences to be posted on the SHP website. When sharing their experiences, students are asked to articulate the following:
- ** Which organization did you volunteer for, when did you volunteer, and what did you do?
** Why did you chose this organization to volunteer for?
** How does this experience relate to your essay topic and/or the work of your interviewee?
** In what ways do you see your community service relating to “sustainability?” (This can be in positive or negative ways, or in terms of comparisons, contrasts, and/or critiques, etc.)
** In what other ways does your community service experience relate to the goals of the course, the University Studies goals, etc.?
By no means is the list below exhaustive, but here are a few opportunities available regionally:
- Animal Aid
 Combining these course elements is often ideal in that it offers students the chance to approach their work more efficiently. However, there are many reasons why combining them is not required. For example, some organizations do not have volunteer opportunities; some students come to the course with alternate ideas for volunteering; and some students, because of their work schedule, are not able to correlate their community service with the work of their interviewee.
James V. Hillegas, Jan. 13, 2011