Florida Atlantic University may soon have more civic-minded students.
The university has created a Center for Civic Engagement and Service, a new program designed to encourage more students to volunteer, and to tie community service directly into the classroom.
"We want to show students that it's fun to be active and to get involved with their community," said Monica Jara, assistant director of the center.
Before this fall, FAU had a smaller operation known as the Volunteer Center, which also encouraged students to perform community service. But the services were available mainly to the 18,000 students on the Boca Raton campus and had no direct tie-in to academics, Jara said. The new center will include liaisons at the Davie, Jupiter and Port St. Lucie campuses, expanding its reach to all 26,000 students. The center coordinates with faculty members and about 100 community organizations to come up with volunteer opportunities for students.
Officials came up with the idea to expand their volunteer efforts in March after 25 students and five advisers from several FAU campuses went to New Orleans over Spring Break to help Katrina victims. Students provided food for the homeless, volunteered as tutors in an after-school program and gutted homes in the badly damaged lower Ninth Ward.
Jara said the joint effort provided better results than if the center had only taken students from the Boca Raton campus.
The university hasn't hired additional people to staff the other campuses but instead designated existing employees to coordinate volunteer efforts, in addition to their other duties.
While the exact number of FAU students who do volunteer work is unknown, about 400 participated with the volunteer center in spring 2007, the latest figures available. FAU officials hope this new focus will at least double that.
The new center is working with 15 faculty members who make volunteer work a part of their academic requirements. Jara said she's trying to recruit more faculty.
Business Professor Dennis Palkon requires students in his health care administration classes to perform community service. Students in an introductory class must complete eight hours a semester, while students in an upper-level class have to complete nine hours a week in a hospital, doctor's office or nursing home.
"It gives them some experience. Some students come in not knowing anything about the field they're studying," he said. "Somebody might go into a nursing home, and realize that's not what they want to do."
Others, like Claudia Toussaint, realize they've made the right choice.
Toussaint, 20, a junior who lives in Boca Raton, was required to do 20 hours of volunteer work for her Social Work and Social Problems class. She has volunteered for Pearl City Cats, a literacy and tutoring program held at Dixie Manor housing project. She said the experience has been so rewarding that she stayed on, two months after completing her required hours.
"I want to work with children, and this is helping me to get to know them better," she said. "The kids are nice. They're really wanting to learn."
While the center would love to see participation soar, there are no plans to follow the lead of some other colleges that make community service mandatory.
"We want to make sure students volunteer because they want to, not because they have to," Jara said.
Scott Travis can be reached at email@example.com or 561-243-6637.