The Importance of Undergraduate Service

As so often happens with service, I came into this experience expecting to help an organization better their service, and instead the service ended up bettering me.

By Kaela Chevalier

This fall I had the opportunity to participate in my first service-learning project at Northeastern. As a graduate student, I am taking an elective course in the Human Services program with a service-learning component. In groups of three and four, my classmates and I are are designing a strategic communication plan for three area nonprofits to help them advance one of their organizational goals. My group is working with the on-campus organization, Jumpstart, and it has given me the chance to learn more about the great opportunities and connections available to Northeastern students.

Prior to this course I did not know anything about JumpStart or service-learning at Northeastern. I had taken courses with a service component at my undergrad college but was unfamiliar with the requirements at Northeastern. Through this course I have learned about the variety of service-learning opportunities at Northeastern that over 1,100 students participate in each year. As a graduate student, who has spent over five years in the workforce, I can attest to the importance of undergraduate service, not just as a resume-builder but as an opportunity to become a more well-rounded, engaged, and knowledgeable graduate.

Over this semester I have been impressed by my classmates who have incorporated examples of their own experiences participating in service through other service-learning classes, Co-ops, and volunteering into our class discussions. These students have engaged with the Greater Boston community as well as organizations around the country and abroad. I have learned from their experiences and have been impressed with their knowledge and commitment to social justice.

Throughout this semester I have been reflecting on this model of learning—combining skills learned in the classroom to an outside organization to solve a real-life problem—and how highly relevant it is. As a grad student, I am constantly taking the skills I learn in the classroom back to my work to inform projects, grant proposals and my own professional development. When I was an undergrad student I always felt that the courses that incorporated real-life issues and projects were the most exciting and interesting because it felt like real work, with real solutions.

These service experiences so closely mirror the general workforce that they should be incorporated more often into classrooms and coursework. Throughout this semester I have come to learn more about the Northeastern experiential learning model and can really appreciate the appeal that this would have to incoming students. The more opportunities students have to engage with the community, explore their interests beyond the classroom, apply theory to practice and broaden their worldview in a meaningful way, the more fruitful their undergrad experience will be.

Now, this may sound like a paid advertisement for Northeastern’s Co-op, or a post-grad waxing nostalgia about the time when an unpaid internship was a winning deal when now it is not even an option, but truthfully I have just been pleasantly surprised by my (late in life) service-learning experience. I have had the chance to learn about and connect with the Northeastern community by working with Jumpstart and the Human Services department. I have been impressed by the knowledge and engagement of my classmates. I have been encouraged by the passion, activism, and enthusiasm that these almost-college-graduates exhibit for nonprofits, social issues and the Boston community. And I have been inspired to re-engage my own interests in service and civic participation. As I come to the end of my graduate experience and my time at Northeastern, this service-learning experience has been the perfect opportunity for me to remember the importance of community, of volunteerism, of engaging with the people and neighborhoods that are important to me. As so often happens with service, I came into this experience expecting to help an organization better their service, and instead the service ended up bettering me.

Kaela is a student in Kate Marple’s Strategic Communications for Nonprofit Organizations course. 

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