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Service Learning

Department of Counseling and Human Services

How to Partner
Students serving at salvation Army

The Office of Service-Learning 

Human Development and Learning

ETSU connects academic courses to service in turn teaching civic responsibility and leadership. Since our beginning in the fall of 1994, we have developed an Introduction to Service-Learning and Advanced Service-Learning course, awarded many faculty service-learning leader stipends, and included service-learning components in additional courses.

paint a wall mural at a day care center

More than 100 nonprofit and not-for-profit agencies

Serve as placement sites for our students

We continue to develop placement sites, government and educational institutions. ETSU students and faculty have a wide variety of interests and academic majors through which service-learning projects can be developed.


How Students Get Involved in Service-Learning

Students enroll in the Introduction to Service-Learning course or the Advanced Service-Learning course, or classes that offer a service component.  They then are placed in service areas that reflect the kind of topics being studied in the course.  Service-Learning offers a continuum of possibilities ranging from one-time service experience to working with the same agency for a predetermined number of hours during the semester.  Students enrolled in the Introduction to Service-Learning and Advanced Service-Learning has a minimum of 30 hours of service.  Other courses require various numbers of hours with a minimum number of ten hours.

At the beginning of each semester, the faculty member introduces the service-learning component to his or her class.  The Office of Service-Learning staff also usually conducts a class visit to go over paperwork, site options, and the placement process.  Students have various forms to fill out during the course of their service-learning session.  Many of these forms you will be required to sign off on, as well as complete an evaluation of their service.  After students have completed the application, they are given contact information for an agency and call the agency to set up an interview/orientation.  The Office of Service-Learning staff assists students and faculty in selecting a site relevant to each course.  The faculty member also sets a minimum number of hours to complete and develop a reflective learning component that may include assignments such as journals, readings, class discussions, writing assignments, or class presentations about the service. 

The ETSU Academic Calendar

Because service is integrated into the class structure, students must be able to complete their placements within the semester time frame (15 weeks).  Generally, it takes a couple of weeks to get students assigned, oriented, and started.  There are also breaks during the semester that not all students are in-town for.  In addition, the last week of the semester is devoted to exams.  Agencies are asked to adjust by working around these times and developing placements that can be finished in a semester.  Don't forget that students are a fantastic resource and can turn into wonderful citizens who volunteer after the class is over.  Some faculty choose to continue working with the same agencies semester after semester.  Therefore projects that can build on semester after semester are encouraged.

Service-Learning Objectives & Important Elements
  1. To provide students with educational and leadership opportunities in community service via service-learning.
  2. To promote service-learning and experiential learning among faculty as an effective and viable tool.
  3. To develop partnerships and combine resources with the external community which will be of mutual benefit.
  4. To collaborate with the college's internal and external community in order to promote civic responsibility among students.
These key terms will be helpful to know when considering service-learning.

RECIPROCITY:  The service and learning must be worthwhile and valuable for both the student and the community, and both should have an active voice in the process.  There must be exchange between the server and the served.

REFLECTION & EVALUATION:  Intentional, systematic reflection through speaking, writing, activities, or artistic expression concerning the experience takes place in order to accomplish harmony in community service experiences.  Reflection within the context of the service experience also helps in applying lessons learned through service to their own life.

DEVELOPMENT:  Service-Learning occurs in different stages:  beginning with training, to serving, to enabling, to empowering; from observation to experience, to leadership.  Some of the best leaders of tomorrow are potential servers of today - looking for direction. 

MEANINGFUL SERVICE:  Service tasks need to be worthwhile and challenging other to strengthen students' critical thinking.  Doing the same old thing is not an environment for learning or growing.

DIVERSITY:  A priority is place on involving a broad cross-section of students working in diverse settings and with a diverse population in the community.  Everyone involved benefits from diversity.

Benefits of Service-Learning

For Students For the College

  • Enriched Learning Improved Public Service Deliver
  • Documented Experience Broadened Concept of Educational Role
  • Development of Skills Increased Learning Opportunities
  • Application of Classroom Knowledge Relevance of Learning Tested
  • Improved Self-Esteem Learning Quality Improved
  • Critical Thinking Skills Strengthened Alliances with Community
  • Job Contacts Strengthened Resources within the Community
  • Make a Difference Improved Motivation of Instruction and Learning
  • Broader Horizons Improved Student Satisfaction and Retention

For the Community

  • Augmented Service Delivery
  • Increased Resources
  • Partnership with the University
  • Increase Citizen Support/Commitment
  • Expanded Humane Resources - Beyond Simple Volunteering
  • A Fresh Set of Ideas
Service-Learning Roles

FACULTY: connects service experience and teaching objectives through reflection

STUDENT: provides service and learns

SERVICE-LEARNING STAFF: links students and communities and facilitates

COMMUNITY: identifies service needs and supervises student efforts

Expectations of Agencies

The Agency plays a crucial role in determining the value of the service experience to the student's learning.  The agency supervisor's role includes:


As soon as the student has been interviewed, accepted and the Site Contract is completed and signed, the student's position and assignments should be carefully defined.  All parties should have a clear understanding of expectations, in writing, in terms of productivity and educational growth.


Whether in connection with an interview or at some other time, students want and need some sort of orientation before they begin serving. A welcoming orientation provides a firm foundation for a successful service experience.  Most importantly, it puts the student at ease in a new environment.  As you talk with the students, help them feel comfortable, welcome, and a part of your team.  Describe the ways in which your organization benefits its clients, other organizations, and the greater community.  Students will get a better sense of their role as well as a sense of importance within your organization and its work if they can see the "big picture". Here are some key things to keep in mind when orienting the students.  Remember, they will not know something until you tell or show them. 

  • Give students a tour of the facility
  • Introduce them to staff members and other volunteers 
  • Provide students with any applicable, informative, or helpful literature
  • Describe the history of the organization
  • Encourage questions from start to finish
  • Any equipment they may use needs to be explained
  • Explain any jargon terms they may be unfamiliar with

Orientation is also the time to introduce the student to the work they will be doing and the responsibilities you expect them to take on.  This is the time to stress the importance of reliability, timeliness, courtesy and the like.  Be sure to cover the following:  schedule, specific duties, office policies, safety considerations, important phone numbers, emergency procedures, and policies.


Minimal or non-supervision can make a student volunteer feel abandoned or unwanted, while too much supervision can make them feel stifled and mistrusted.  Both can cause them to lose enthusiasm.  At the same time you have a professional obligation to make sure their work is being done well and is of use to you and your agency.


This is a perk for you and the service-learner.  If they enjoy their placement and have the time to continue to commit, and you have the need for them, a student may stay for years.  Perks are a great way to encourage retention, but also must not be overdone.  Some ideas follow:

  • Simple, everyday recognition - a note of appreciation, verbal praise
  • Special recognition events
  • Letters of reference
  • Reimbursed travel expenses
  • Free stuff - food, pens/pencils, candy, tickets to events 
  • Travel to conferences/seminars
  • Increasingly challenging tasks
  • Building on career skills/training and contacts
  • Resume enhancing opportunities
  • Future employment consideration


The supervisor, whether or not he/she wishes such a role, becomes part of the student's image of what it means to be a professional in the world of work.  Often the interpersonal relations that develop between a supervisor and a student are among the most significant parts of the student's experience.  Taking an interest in the student and his/her activities, and sharing feelings and interests beyond the work situation can be very helpful.

Common Problems/Student Complaints:

  • Not enough interaction between staff and volunteers
  • Not enough interaction between volunteers and clients
  • Time not constructively used, not enough to do
  • Dull, uninteresting busy-work
  • Feel ignored or disregarded
  • Unclear about work duties and their relevance 
  • Suggestions/comments unwelcome and ignored
  • Lack of staff support
  • Problems with staff/volunteers are not reconciled
  • Frustration with failure to accomplish goals
  • Lack of training for expected duties, situations treated differently from paid staff, feel like an outsider.

Comply with college policies on affirmative action, sexual harassment and the Americans with Disabilities Act, since the student's work is considered to be an extension of his/her education, sponsored and supported by the college.

Notify the university if there are problems or if the student does not show up.


Complete, sign, and return the "Final Student Evaluation" to the Office of Service-Learning as well as initial the "Service-Learning log" at the completion of the student's time with you to assist us in maintaining a quality program.  Any perceived inadequacy is student performance should be considered whenever possible as opportunities for growth.  Unresolved conflicts should be discussed with the faculty supervisor or the Office of Service-Learning.

Agency Checklist 
  • Become familiar with Service-Learning opportunities and the process of the program
  • Provide job description to the Office of Service-Learning 
  • Interview candidate(s) for service-learning to clarify the responsibilities of the placement and to evaluate the student's abilities and appropriateness with respect to these responsibilities.  Check for all agency requirements.
  • Confirm placement and submit site contract
  • Provide orientation, instructions, and training including written materials needed to supplement training
  • Report any problems, concerns, or issues to the Office of Service-Learning (423) 439-7775. 
  • Complete and return Final Student Evaluation and initial Service Hours Log  
Expectations of the Student

The following is a list of what the agency can reasonably expect from the service-learning student.  It has been developed from past experiences, agency feedback, and assessments of work site evaluations.

Attendance at Orientation & Training Sessions: 

Students should inform you directly and promptly of any conflicts regarding orientation and training dates.

Commitment & Reliability: 

The agency should be able to count on the student just as it would count on any other community helper.  The student will make every effort to satisfy the time commitment he/she has made and adhere to scheduled work hours agreed upon.  Part of the educational value of this experience is the learning of time management skills.

Respect for the Agency, Programs & Clients: 

Upon learning of the mission of the agency its programs, students are usually quite anxious to explore options regarding their roles within the structure.  Your program becomes as important to the student as it is to your employees and other volunteers.  You have the right to expect respect, and the clients and co-workers within the agency can feel secure entrusting their cases and concerns to the service-learning student.

Fill out and provide appropriate forms.

Acceptance of Supervision & Feedback: 

A major lesson of the experiential learning exercise is that the student understands how feedback can lend itself to self-improvement.  The student expects to be supervised and to receive feedback, and he/she is aware that supervision is an integral part of working in the real world.

Expectations of the University

The roles of the faculty supervisor and site placement coordinator are essentially to provide guidance to the student.  They are responsible for ensuring that the students are learning from their service and for providing any support or advice that may be required along the way.  This is done in the following ways:

  • Assisting students in locating appropriate community sites 
  • Working with the student to develop a learning plan which will target activities appropriate to the student's academic major
  • Meeting with the student during regular class time to guide their reflection activity and assess their learning and progress
  • Providing information and/or training to agencies wishing to host service-learning students
  • Visiting the agency at least once per semester to monitor service-learning student's progress
  • Mediating any problems between agency and student 
  • Reminding the students to complete necessary forms 
  • Providing agency supervisor with appropriate forms for evaluation and feedback and maintaining sufficient contact to ensure the student's progress according to the learning plan
  • Evaluating the student's class and agency work
  • Providing all college requirements for records pertaining to registration and withdrawal and submit a grade for the student as soon as possible after they have completed the course
  • Maintain files on students
Sample Service-Learning Projects
  • Criminal Justice majors might choose to mentor a juvenile offender or serve with a local law enforcement agency working with prisoners or even some sort of school-prevention program, like DARE.
  • A math class tutors at a local grade school, working with students in danger of failing.
  • Some students in an accounting class works with a local agency that cannot afford to hire someone to do simple bookkeeping or they may assist with the budget process.
  • A health class works in an underprivileged housing edition to educate the community on subjects like drug and alcohol awareness.
  • A Spanish class works with local migrant workers and their children, teaching ESL classes.
  • An English class collects oral histories pertaining to the operation of a one-room school; the histories are used to help establish the school as a living history site.  A following semester students help landscape and prepare the school for opening based on the previously collected oral histories. 
How to Partner

Service-Learning is receiving unprecedented recognition for its value to students, higher education, and community.  The importance of the community service site cannot be underestimated.  In fact, successful service-learning is largely dependent on the level of partnership and collaboration between community agency and educational institution.  This requires a considerable commitment of time, resources, and effort on your part.  However, the results for your agency, the service-learning students and our community can be dramatic and transformational.

If you are interested in developing a partnership, please return the completed "Service-Learning Project Description" to us at:

Box 70548
Johnson City, TN 37614
or fax to (423) 439-7790. 

Feel free to attach any additional literature about your agency.  A staff member from our office will contact you to establish a clear understanding of how ETSU can work with your agency.  We look forward to partnering with you in ETSU's Service-Learning Program.

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