Students learn material through service. They learn how to address a partner’s needs, identify the strengths in the community, how to consult, and how to engage the partner in problem solving.”
By: Lisa Riley
That is the unofficial motto of the Community Partnerships Department established in 2006 when Executive Director Jill Glenn, L.C.S.W. first came to The Chicago School, specifically to build and grow the department.
“I help students engage with the community when they first walk in the door,” she explained. “And as most students specifically choose The Chicago School because they want to have an impact…make a difference when they graduate, I want to connect them to opportunities to do that when they first get on campus.”
The Community Partnerships Department was the brainchild of TCSPP President Dr. Nealon and others who decided that the University needed a department that focused on getting interested students and faculty involved in the community through volunteering. The department was developed to offer opportunities that would be in addition to the practicums and internships students are required to have in their fields of study.
“They wanted to be able to give everyone opportunities to be more engaged in the community, and wanted to find ways for The Chicago School to use its knowledge base out in the community,” Jill said.
Community Partnerships currently counts 60 organizations as partners in the Chicago area and just last year opened an office on the Los Angeles Campus, directed by Dr. Nadia Rojas Jones. The sites that partner with The Chicago School offer opportunities in several areas, including tutoring or mentoring children, helping families, working with the geriatric population, drug rehabilitation, empowerment for women and girls and addressing sexual exploitation.
“It’s important to have diverse populations. The opportunities often challenge a way of thinking. Learning something in class versus seeing it day to day is much different.”
As the department expanded its network of sites, it also began to take a more integrative approach and nine years ago, began working with faculty to develop a Service Learning component. A national initiative open to interested faculty members across all campuses, Service Learning allows faculty to weave service to the community into the course work, again giving students the opportunity to engage in the community.
“Service Learning is nothing new. High schools — even some grade schools – do it,” Jill explained. “It was a natural fit for us as a school of psychology. Students learn material through service. They learn how to address a partner’s needs, identify the strengths in the community, how to consult, and how to engage the partner in problem solving.”
Through its partners, Community Partnerships provides opportunities for students to volunteer anywhere from two to ten hours a week. Students are invited to a Job and Volunteer Fair twice a year where they meet with partner sites and determine what might be a good fit for them. Community Partnerships then interviews students to discuss their interests and helps to arrange interviews with the sites. If chosen, the student reports to the site. The process has served them well. Many students continue to volunteer with sites after the term is over and even after graduation.
“It’s important to give back to your community — to be engaged and connected. It builds character,” Jill said without a trace of doubt.