Monmouth College’s commitment to community service and civic engagement has earned recognition from the federal government, which named the college to the 2013 President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll.
The designation is the highest honor a college or university can receive for its commitment to volunteering, service-learning and civic engagement.
Monmouth received the honor for three ongoing initiatives: the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, Dean David Timmerman’s Citizenship class and the Educational Garden, all of which were deemed to reflect the values of exemplary community service and achieve meaningful outcomes in the community.
Timmerman’s “Building Communities” course teaches students to distinguish and lead citizens in productive civil discourse that is responsible to one’s community and manages differences constructively.
“In this course, students first analyze an example of public discourse or deliberation, either in the mass media or in a live setting, then learn how to lead first their classmates and then a group of Monmouth citizens in a deliberation on an issue of public concern,” said Timmerman. “Recent examples of these public deliberations include publicly-funded wind farms, publicly-funded downtown rehabilitation efforts, potential restrictions on negative political advertisements and a dilapidated housing city ordinance.”
Monmouth also serves the community through the VITA program, which features students preparing and e-filing tax returns for citizens at no cost using commercial software.
“The program has a two-fold purpose,” explained coordinator Judy Peterson, a member of MC’s accounting faculty. “It provides a service and education for the community and it also provides citizenship and education for the student.”
The effectiveness of the program is evaluated through a number of indicators, including the numbers of taxpayers served and returns e-filed. Taxpayers are surveyed about their experience, and 100 percent of the surveys indicate that the taxpayers were satisfied and would return and recommend the service to a friend.
The Educational Garden project, begun in 2010 with assistance from a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, involved local schools and community organizations in learning about and participating in sustainable agriculture.
“On the surface, gardening is important because it provides us with a chance to step away from books for a while and get our hands dirty,” said Will Terrill, a junior from Sandwich, Ill., who helps administer the program. “But the importance goes much deeper. In an industrialized, fast-paced world, it pays in more ways than one to take a step back and evaluate the way we live. At the garden, this evaluation centers around our food systems and the effects they have on our health, our community and our environment. On the deepest level, the garden is a door to change, which opens the conversation to many issues that are often overlooked.”
Inspired by the thousands of college students who traveled across the country to support relief efforts along the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) has administered these awards since 2006. It manages the program in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, as well as the American Council on Education and Campus Compact.
Of the 830 colleges, universities and community colleges nationwide that competed for inclusion in the this year’s honor roll, Monmouth was one of only 571 selected.
“Congratulations to Monmouth College, its faculty and students for its commitment to service, both in and out of the classroom,” said Wendy Spencer, CEO of CNCS. “Through its work, institutions of higher education are helping improve their local communities and create a new generation of leaders by challenging students to go beyond the traditional college experience and solve local challenges.”