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As part of its mission and culture, Shenandoah University encourages students to become engaged, caring citizens, locally and globally. From its earliest beginnings in Dayton, Va., to the moment it opened its doors in Winchester in 1960, the university’s commitment to the local community is both authentic and heartfelt. It’s a value woven into the experiences of students, faculty, staff and alumni, who reach out to share their time, skills and compassion to create a positive living and learning environment in which to study, work and live. From long-term partnerships with regional health systems, schools and community nonprofits, to annual medical mission and service trips statewide and abroad, to blood pressure screenings and healthy cooking demonstrations for low-income families, the Shenandoah community remains diligent in its dedication to experiential learning and service to others. Shenandoah students emerge from these experiences as individuals prepared to become active and compassionate community leaders who understand the value of service and giving back.
RUNNING FOR A HEALTHIER COMMUNITY
The partnership between Shenandoah and such regional medical providers as Valley Health in the Northern Shenandoah Valley, Inova in Northern Virginia and the Martinsburg Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center in Martinsburg, W.Va., provides wonderful clinical settings for students, as well as $3 million in grant funding from federal and private sources, since 2007. While providing students with high-quality clinical experiences remains an important issue, the university’s commitment to caring for the health and well-being of the regional community extends beyond educating future generations of health care professionals. This spring, Shenandoah held its 11th annual Relay for Life to support the American Cancer Society. As of mid-April, the Shenandoah University team raised a total of $38,598, with more yet to be raised through August.
CONNECTING STUDENTS TO SERVICE OPPORTUNITIES
Through Shenandoah’s Center for Public Service and Scholarship, students, faculty and staff can connect with and learn through various opportunities with local nonprofit agencies. Service learning differs from volunteering in that it offers opportunities for personal reflection. It also fulfills a real need. Projects provide students with an expanded perspective toward issues associated with poverty — hunger, education and health care — and connect them with possibilities for making a difference in the local community.
Funded by a three-year federal grant awarded cooperatively to Shenandoah University and Our Health, the Americorps Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) program, now in its second year, is intended to enhance the level of community engagement by Shenandoah students and 56 members of Our Health.
“We work with professors to utilize the skills taught in their courses within the community,” said VISTA representative Mike Madden. “Students learn to look at their community, identify problems, research those problems and develop solutions using skills they’ve learned in the classroom. It also provides local nonprofits with access to resources they likely couldn’t afford or even locate on their own.”
During the 2012–2013 academic year, the VISTA program connected nearly 400 Shenandoah students directly with service learning opportunities through Our Health nonprofit agencies. Since January 2013, Shenandoah students contributed 1,196 hours of service learning to local nonprofit organizations.
“The VISTA program is about connecting the skills of students and faculty with Our Health agencies whose needs match those skills,” said Madden. “We ask, ‘What does the community need? How can we align the skills of students and professors to serve those needs? What are our students learning through these projects, and how can they apply what they’ve learned in the classroom to this particular project?’ Finding the answers to these questions helps us ensure we match students and faculty with organizations that will be a good fit. The goal is for everyone—nonprofit agencies, students and faculty—to benefit.”
This spring, the university received a President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll award for its dedicated service to the the community it calls home. The award recognizes higher education institutions that reflect the values of exemplary community service and achieve meaningful outcomes in their communities. The Honor Roll is part of the Corporation for National and Community Service’s strategic commitment to engage millions of college students in service and to celebrate the critical role of higher education in strengthening communities.
“The university-wide emphasis on community service and the engagement of the Shenandoah community made this happen,” said Karen Schultz, Ph.D., director of Shenandoah University’s Center for Public Service & Scholarship. “The Shenandoah administration, students, faculty and staff should be proud of this distinction, as it is a direct result of their hard work and desire to make our university community and our local community a better place to live. Special thanks goes out to Michael Madden and Erica Shifflett, Shenandoah’s AmeriCorps VISTAs, who have worked tirelessly to make community service connections between the university and local nonprofits over the past year.”
“When I became involved with Shenandoah through the Center for Public Service & Scholarship, I was pleasantly surprised to see the depth at which Shenandoah enters into the community,” said Madden. “It’s one of those quiet, hero kinds of things, where pharmacy students and spiritual life students work on monthly Mission Possible projects or the softball and men’s soccer teams volunteer at the Boys & Girls Club. Serving the community is what we do here at Shenandoah. It’s not something unusual. It’s just who we are.”
“Serving the community is what we do here at Shenandoah. It’s not something unusual. It’s just who we are.” Mike Madden, Shenandoah’s Americorps Vista Representative.