Service Learning Helps Students Create Change

May 15th, 2005 | By | Category: 16-4: International Indigenous Education, Tribal College News

Northwest Indian College (NWIC) received national recognition recently for its Service Learning Program. Service learning integrates community service with academic instruction while developing civic/social justice responsibility in students.

The class strives to develop a reciprocal relationship where both community and students’ needs are met, according to Michelle J. Vendiola (Walker River Paiute), the service learning coordinator at the tribal college in Bellingham, WA.

For the past 2 years, service learning has been a college goal. The philosophy is, “The world is our classroom.” By creating opportunities for elders and others in the community to teach students, faculty members learn the pedagogy of service learning and its positive impact.

Addressing social issues is a major element of service learning. Students as scholars reflect on the root causes of poverty, racism, and oppression, Vendiola says. When thinking about their service work within the context of their academic course work, students are more likely to make the critical connections for social, institutional, and political change.

Empowering students to make systematic change in their community is crucial to retaining tribal rights, maintaining cultural identity, and improving the social and economic conditions of our tribal community and college.

People may overlook the conditions they grew up in, like poverty or racism, because they never before had words to describe the systems of oppression that marginalize them, Vendiola says.

Faculty member Shelley Macy says, “I am really excited about including service learning. Students are empowered to learn that their work really does make a difference in children’s lives and in their community. This promises to be an excellent learning and teaching tool.”

The American Association of Community Colleges selected NWIC to become one of eight Horizons colleges nationwide. The Horizons colleges received grants to create replicable models for service learning with the assistance of mentor colleges.

For more information about service learning, see the American Association of Community Colleges website,

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