Today is the first day of classes on campus and there is quite the buzz about our student groups who did service trips over our Winter Break. We had groups in Belize, Honduras and a Habitat for Humanity group that served in the Gulf Coast. One of my staff members traveled with the Honduras group and had the opportunity of a lifetime to challenge her skills as an advisor and a leader but to also examine the way she views the world and her place within it.
So many distinctive lessons are learned through these great experiences on campuses across the country and it is so gratifying to watch the “higher education machine” begin to realize its opportunity to make a big difference in some of these communities. While it’s tempting to write about the value of service, etc. especially in the context of our new president’s strong service message, I want to take this information in a different direction.
I want to know how we can best harness the learning that takes place in these environments to also inspire change on campus. We spend a great deal of time reflecting on the student growth that happens from this service and the amazing impact we can have on those communities, but I also want to bring all of these students together to share common learning “moments” that might be able to be applied right here at home. The place I work is a very positive environment, but I know we all share interests in improving our campus climates and, in turn, the ability of every student to succeed.
Here are the types of lessons I’m thinking about…
The kindness of strangers means everything
All of these students talked about how “nice” everyone was in the areas they visited and seem to be very struck by how much they depended on the generosity of local residents. If we applied this lesson on campus, I think our environment would be much more welcoming, civil and empowering. If people facing such poverty and difficulty can extend themselves so much to visitors like us, why can’t that happen more regularly at home? I know I’d appreciate a more “civil” campus.
When there is a job to be done, teamwork is essential
There is nothing like building a house to show the value of teamwork. All of the students with this kind of experience will now understand the importance of seeing each other’s strengths and weaknesses and trying to utilize them well for the good of a team. How can we harness these lessons to develop our teams and organizations?
Great risks can bring great personal growth
At least 80% of those who went on these trips have already told me that they had some fear about stepping out of their comfort zone to participate in this experience. I feel like this kind of risk taking brought about such significant personal reward to them and wonder if the notion of the risk itself made the experience that much more meaningful. What can we do to support risk taking on our campuses in our employees and our students? I worry that those who go out on a limb aren’t always caught if they fall…
There is a lot to think as these great experiences are processed, as I know that those who participated will be changed forever. For some reason, this is the first time I’m thinking about what these service experiences can do to transform our campuses. We now have a cadre of students focused on service… now’s the time for us to figure it out.
What other things can we apply here at home?
Have a great week!