How Community Service Helps You Become a Well-Rounded Student
You can probably identify with the first-year student who is unsure about their future. Between 20% and 50% of students enter university undecided and 75% will change their major at least once before graduation (Gordon, 1995).
In Centenary University’s Office of Community Engagement, we encounter many students who are uncertain about their direction, and our goal is to fill the gaps in experience and education that would prevent them from finding their niche before they graduate. There is no better time for this trial and error period in their lives than during their early college years when we can offer them the support and guidance they need.
From a student’s perspective, service to the community is something they do because they are required, or because someone else “needs” them. We in Community Engagement argue that they need it just as much or more than the community they are serving. Here are some benefits that students derive from the community service.
There is a plethora of experiences waiting in the local community that do not require previous qualifications and offer a wealth of training, transferable skills, and networking opportunities. We find that students who engage in their communities as volunteers early on in their education are far ahead of their peers with respect to skills in problem solving, collaboration, time management, communication and leadership. These are all attributes that are vital in the workplace and can only be learned through first hand experience.
Hard skills can be learned in the classroom, but soft skills are developed through working with other people and navigating new situations. Commenting on the skills she has gained from volunteering Junior at Centenary Gabrielle Lambe says she has “learned to communicate effectively with other volunteers and collaborate on group projects”.
Having volunteer experience on your resume boosts your chances of finding a job by 27% according to the Corporation for National and Community Service. Volunteer experience can often qualify, as related experience because of the transferable skills it teaches. This is especially helpful for students, because they often lack direct experience related to the jobs they will be applying for.
Many volunteer programs provide training, so volunteers gain an educational benefit to add to their resume as well. The number of companies that offer paid time off to volunteer is steadily increasing, because they find that their employees learn interpersonal skills more effectively while volunteering than they would at a work-related training event. Career driven students should take note of this and start early!
Career Path and Connections
Being willing to experiment with a variety of service opportunities can also lead students into a clearer path for their future. Our first questions to new students are about their field of study, their interests, and what skills they need to build. From there they can be placed in a variety of positions that let them gain perspective into the career field they are considering.
Senior and Criminal Justice Major Shannen Wallace shared how serving the community over her spring break helped her make decisions about her career path. “I was able to volunteer as a visitor to the ICE detention center, and I was touched by the women’s stories. Understanding what they struggle with reinforced why I wanted to study criminal justice and gave me a picture of the things I will encounter in my future career”.
Because of the wide variety of volunteer opportunities, they have engaged in, students like Shannen will graduate not only with a plan for the future but the connections to get started.
The best time to get involved in service is as a freshmen/sophomore. By the time you start interning as a junior/senior you will have the skills to be polished and professional in any career, and the network and resume to place you ahead of the competition.
To get started, visit the Office of Community Engagement and let them know what interests you! You will be amazed what opportunities will come your way if you’re willing to serve.