Survey shows volunteering increase

Fresno State is looking to increase the number of community service hours performed each year by students, faculty and staff.

President John D. Welty’s proposal to reach one million hours annually by 2011 is well on its way. One million hours of service is equal to 500 people working full time for 50 weeks, said Chris Fiorentino, director of the Richter Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning.

The number of hours has dramatically increased over the past few years.

In the 2004-2005 school year, 171,000 hours of community service were recorded. Last year, the number increased to 481,480 hours, with an estimated economic impact of $10 million. This year, Fiorentino said, it is expected that the number of hours will be far beyond 500,000.

One of the main reasons the hours have increased so dramatically, Fiorentino said, is that many of them were going unrecorded. A survey was sent out to all faculty and staff last week to find out if they are engaging their students in community service projects.

The survey is not yet complete, but there have already been over 500 responses to the survey, with 56,544 hours of community service recorded. The last survey, which was conducted two years ago, only received 268 total responses with 3,320 hours.

Besides service learning classes, which require students to engage in community service hours to pass the class, Fiorentino has reached out to other facets of campus that are also volunteering. This includes student clubs and organizations, scholarship programs like the Community Service Scholarship Program and the American Humantics Program, and the hours provided by faculty and staff themselves.

“There are a lot more students doing community service work that we just don’t know about,” Fiorentino said. “A lot of students do volunteer work that is unrelated to the school.”

The university just received an award for its efforts in working with the community last February. The Corporation for National and Community Service recognized Fresno State for their Mediator Mentors program, a university-public school partnership in which future teachers, counselors, social workers and school psychologists support the development of conflict resolution skills in school children.

Fresno State was one of four universities nationwide that received the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll award.

Sally Tannenbaum, a communication professor, uses service learning in three of her classes. She said it helps the students apply what they are learning in the classroom to real life situations.

“It helps them understand the issues and how complicated they can be,” Tannenbaum said.

In her group communications class, the students are required to take a problem in the community and analyze it, then address it and try to improve the situation.

“It gives them hands-on experience to see how difficult it can be to solve these problems,” Tannenbaum said.

She has been using service learning in some of her classes for the past 15 years, and although she believes that it offers a challenging and rewarding experience for students, it may not be effective in all classrooms.

Dr. Robert Fire of the nursing department is overseeing a group of community health students with a service-learning project that will be at Vintage Days this weekend. The nursing students are working with the Central California Blood Center to host a blood drive.

Fire said that the students are only required to work 15 hours with the project, but they have well exceeded that limit.

“This project helps the students expand their knowledge,” he said.

The group is working with some marketing students to put in place a way to encourage people to continue donating blood through the summer, a time of year when blood donations are low.

“The groups working together gives them real-life experience,” Fire said.

Although the number of hours must continue to increase dramatically to reach one million by 2011, Fiorentino said he has no doubt the university will reach its goal.

“The million-hour goal is just a way to quantify the hours,” Fiorentino said. “What really matters is the benefits the community sees.”

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