Shenandoah University’s Director of the Center for Public Service and Scholarship Karen Schultz, Ph.D., was among more than 200 leaders from the public and private sectors, higher education, government, military and nonprofits invited to the first-ever 21st Century National Service Summit at the Aspen Institute in Aspen, Colo., from June 24-25.

Sponsored by the Institute’s Franklin Project, the summit showcased the 21st Century National Service System Plan of Action, which spells out how to best create a voluntary civilian counterpart to military service in the United States.

“It was a great honor to be invited to and participate in such a groundbreaking and historic event,” said Dr. Schultz. “The plan of action unveiled at the summit highlights and supports the dire need for positions that allow our young men and women in the United States to serve their communities – locally, regionally and nationally.”

The plan calls for a 21st Century National Service System in America to inspire and engage at least one million young adults annually in a demanding year of full-time service to the nation. This “civic rite of passage” aims to unleash the energy and idealism of each generation to address the nation’s many challenges.

These service opportunities would be available to young adults ages 18-28 and would, according to the plan, “make a year or more of full-time national service a common expectation and opportunity for all young Americans.”

The system would, among other things, establish a national service corps and strengthen and expand the Peace Corps, VISTA, AmeriCorps and other national service efforts. The plan of action also calls for the development of new corps within federal departments and agencies, a National Service Certification System, flexibility within the GI Bill to enable more veterans to participate in Veterans Corps programs, and the authorization of 250,000 annual AmeriCorps positions by 2017 via the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act.

“It is so exciting to see a proposed national service system that is as diverse and wide-reaching as the one included in the Franklin Project’s plan of action,” said Schultz. “To be a part of this large network of public and private professionals who are dedicated to bringing national service to the forefront is a wonderful experience.”

Supporters say this increased national service would provide a higher quality education to school children and address the high school dropout epidemic, address endangered public and tribal lands and waterways, re-integrate veterans into civilian life, help end childhood hunger, address poverty and improve the health of Americans.

For its part, Shenandoah University has, for years, focused on service to the community as an integral segment of its mission and integrates the culture of service on all its campuses. Designated centers focused on expanding and enhancing student service include the Center for Public Service & Scholarship, the Office of Spiritual Life and the Office of Student Engagement.

Forty-two percent of the university’s programs support service learning as indicated in mission statements, goals and objectives. Students incorporate service into their extracurricular pursuits through campus clubs, organizations, ensembles and athletic teams.

As a result, the university was recently recognized as a member of the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll, which features higher education institutions that reflect the values of exemplary community service and achieve meaningful outcomes in their communities.

The university was also awarded a Volunteers In Service To America (VISTA) grant in 2012, in conjunction with Our Health of Winchester, Va., to enhance the level of community engagement of Shenandoah University students with the 56 members of Our Health. The grant, renewable for two more years, provides two VISTAs to collaborate with the university and the Winchester/Frederick County community on various projects that give back to the community.

The university’s fourth annual Partnership With Community Day, slated for March 25, 2014, will bring together the university community for a day of outreach in the local community. It is a way for students, faculty and staff at the university to partner with organizations in the surrounding communities and make a difference.

Projects completed over the years include working with ESL students in Frederick County Public Schools; packing lunches at Shenandoah Area Agency for Aging; music and dance projects at the Boys & Girls Club of Northern Shenandoah Valley; cleaning and painting at the Salvation Army of Winchester; and “clean sweeps” with Winchester Parks & Recreation.

(PHOTO: Aspen Institute)