Embracing Community Service

By Andres Tamayo

Embracing Community Service

By Andres Tamayo
More than 12,500 UM students recorded 157,489 hours of community service in the 2014-2015 academic year.

Vikesh Patel knows there is more to a college education than sitting in a classroom.

Yes, he’s attended football games and spent countless hours in the Shalala Student Center, but he knows a college experience involves more than sports and schoolwork. It’s about understanding your new home, your new surroundings, and finding out how to make a difference in the community. 

The University of Miami has a long tradition of community service, and as the incoming Student Government president, Patel wants to build on that momentum this year.

“Community service is an integral part of our college experience and will not only help others in need, but also gives each student a sense of belonging,” Patel said, adding that all UM students “understand the importance of giving back to our communities.”

Student Volunteers throw up the UFor the 2014-15 academic year, more than 12,500 University of Miami students logged an impressive 157,489 hours of community service –– an increase of about 10,000 hours from 2013-14. The University recently provided the numbers to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll, part of the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency that promotes community service.

Many of these dedicated service hours come from University organizations encouraging community service and leadership, including the William R. Butler Center for Service and Leadership and the Office of Civic and Community Engagement. The Butler Center, for example, located at the Shalala Student Center in the heart of the Coral Gables campus, is solely devoted to volunteer and advocacy-based service opportunities to students and employees. 

Andrew Wiemer, director of the Butler Center, was elated with the latest service hours report.

“We are committed to encouraging students from across the University to become engaged citizens and help cultivate their capacity to create positive social change in our communities,” Wiemer said.

Robin F. Bachin, assistant provost for Civic and Community Engagement, said students also participate in community activities through service-learning courses. The University’s 11 schools and colleges offer more than 450  courses with a community-based learning component, she added.

“Student engagement with their communities gives them an opportunity to apply the knowledge they learn in the classroom to real-world settings, and provides a foundation that prepares them to be leaders and future problem-solvers,” Bachin said. The Office of Civic and Community Engagement leverages the academic resources of the University to promote campus-community partnerships and enrich the civic life of our communities.

The Division of Student Affairs focuses on getting students involved, both on and off campus. Volunteerism and community service, said Patricia A. Whitely, vice president for Student Affairs, is critically important to a student’s growth.

“Preparing students to become active, civically-engaged citizens in our communities is central to our mission and it is encouraging to see our student commitment to service continue to grow each year through volunteering, service-learning and civic engagement,” Whitely said.  

Student Affairs, along with the Butler Center and various student organizations, hold service days throughout the year to encourage students to be more involved in the local communities. 

The largest of these service days is National Ghandi Day of Service. Over 750 students dedicate one day to going out into Miami-Dade County and volunteering with multiple non-profit organizations. Last year, the students spent the day planting trees, removing graffiti and staging a carnival at the South Miami Community Center.

Visit the Butler Center’s website for more ways to get involved in community service.