By Carri Jenkins
From tutoring Utah school children to helping farmers in Guatemala improve food production, BYU students have long realized the importance of using their knowledge to serve others. Building on this enthusiasm, in June BYU established a Service and Learning Center.
Linking academic and Student Life programs, the center will function as the nerve center for campus, community, national, and international learning and service experiences, says Cheryl Brown, former associate academic vice president.
“By focusing its resources, the university will be better able to support those programs across campus that engage in service and learning,” she says. “These concepts clearly move us toward the aims of a BYU education, which center on becoming life-long learners and servers.”
Alton Wade, Student Life vice president, points out that while the center is new, the idea of linking service with course work at BYU is not. “The creation of this center really is the culmination of years of active participation by students, faculty, and staff in service that has benefitted people at home and abroad.”
Jim Backman, a professor of law and the director of Academic Internships at BYU, will direct the center, and Jonathan Kau of Student Leadership has been named assistant director.
Backman notes the university’s tradition of integrating education and service, whether it be history students gathering the 106-year record of Provo’s Catholic Parish or food science and nutrition students planning menus for food boxes delivered to refugees in such countries as Yugoslavia and Macedonia.
“The intent of the center,” Backman says, “is to increase opportunities for service and learning, as well as to provide conceptual, motivational, informational, and financial support.”
Backman, who has served as the clinical coordinator of BYU LawHelp since 1992, says he truly believes that service enhances learning and learning enhances service. Part of his job will be to consult with faculty members in creating curriculum that combines classroom instruction with meaningful service.
For Janet Scharman, assistant Student Life vice president and dean of students, the new center provides an opportunity for students to learn to serve in greater ways.
“We want our students to view service not as a one-time activity but as a life-long commitment,” Scharman says.