New database to aid students in volunteering process

The Office of Community-Based Learning initiated the database to help students get involved with the community


A student slices apples during a Campus Kitchen shift. Photo by Coleman Martinson, ’21.

Coleman Martinson

A simplfied process for students wanting to volunteer in the community will roll out this fall thanks to a new database created by the Office of Community-Based Learning at Washington and Lee University.

Engage W&L will launch in the fall of 2019 and will simplify volunteering in the Rockbridge community for Washington and Lee students.

“It is one place to go,” Tammi Hellwig, director of community- based learning, said. “[Students] come here and it’s a new community and there’s no one place to look up [where to volunteer]. So this new database is going to have community partners in our area on the data- base that can share volunteering opportunities that they have.”

The new platform is one of the new initiatives the Office of Community-Based Learning is doing to help increase student engagement in the community, Hellwig said. The office was created as a part of the school’s plan to streamline community-based courses and involvement.

The Office of Community-Based Learning coordinates all Washington and Lee community engagement activities institution-wide, according to its website. Hellwig said that members of the community approach her office with certain projects or ideas in mind. Then, her office develops a consistent vision for what that kind of collaboration will look like.

“We’re connecting community expertise and expertise in coursework,” Hellwig said, “so we help faculty and community partners collaborate on projects for students that integrate the work that students are going to be doing with the community with the learning in the classroom.”

Jenny Davidson, assistant director of the Shepherd program, said that students are the driving force for community involvement.

“A lot of that work has been student-initiated,” Davidson said. “The Volunteer Venture program, Nabors Service League and Campus Kitchen were all student-initiated.”

Since she graduated in 2008, Davidson said that the school, in addition to its students, has increased its approach to involvement in the community, the first being the creation of the Office of Community-Based Learning in July of 2017.

Engage W&L will automatically track students’ volunteering and community-based coursework, Hellwig said. At the end of a term, students will be able to run a report that will show all of the involvement and opportunities. Students will be able to turn this report in to their professors to receive credit for certain courses or show employers the work they did outside of the classroom.

“All community-based learning courses are also going to be on this platform,” Hellwig said. “And if a student is working on a course that has a collaboration with Campus Kitchen, for example, they would sign up for a shift through this Engage W&L database and their time is tracked.”

Campus Kitchen is one organization on campus dedicated to serving the local community. The student-led organization seeks to combat hunger and promote nutrition by serving balanced meals to low-income members of the community in Rockbridge County, according to its website.

Davidson said that organizations like Campus Kitchen help strengthen the mission of the Shepherd Program and community-based learning.

“We want to prepare students to understand and address the causes and consequences of poverty in ways that respect the dignity of every person,” she said, “and that complements the university mission statement about being engaged citizens in the world.”

Not all community-based learning courses are part of the poverty and human capability coursework.

Of the 25 courses offered with community-based connections for the 2018 – 19 school year, only seven counted towards the poverty and human capability minor, three of which are listed directly under the Shepherd Program for the Interdisciplinary Study of Poverty and Human Capability, according to documents provided by Hellwig.

Other disciplines that have courses under the Office of Community-Based Learning include Spanish, journalism, environmental studies, geology, anthropology, accounting, Latin, English, business, educa- tion and economics courses. One student completed an independent study with Project Horizon this year and created a survey that measures the satisfaction of Latino clients.

“[Courses] are really all over the place. It really runs a wide gamut,” Hellwig said. “Students in engineering courses last year designed an outdoor learning trail at the Autism and Achievement Center in Lexington. It was an amazing learning experience for them, but also for the school. Now they have an opportunity to go outside.”

One course recently transitioned into a community-based learning course. The law school course titled, “Child abuse and neglect,” which undergraduate students are allowed to take, has been taught for years but now has a community-based learning aspect thanks to the Office of Community-Based Learning, said Joan Shaughnessy, RogerD. Groot professor of law.

“I thought it was very helpful,” Shaughnessy said. “Their experience and their on-the-ground knowledge was really useful to the students and really deepened the discussion.”

Justin Park, an undergraduate senior in Shaughnessy’s class, said he enjoys the community-based learning aspect of the class.

“I think it contextualizes the abstract work we do in the classroom because most of what we do we expect our professors to read it,” Park said. “But the fact that it goes to CASA [court-appointed special advocates] and the outside community makes it seem like the work I do could potentially make an impact on a child or many children or families that are involved.”

Laura Calhoun, ’20, will work in the Office of Community-Based Learning starting this fall to help market the office and the database to the student body. She said that she initially felt out of place when she couldn’t find anywhere to volunteer as a first-year.

“I remember googling ‘where to volunteer in Lexington’ and getting a bunch of organizations that didn’t exist anymore or didn’t accept volunteers,” Calhoun said. “I think it’s going to be a really cool way to get students engaged more quickly with community partners in the area.”

A pilot phase is up now and the full version will launch in the fall of 2019. The database can be found at