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Service Learning and the Freshman Seminar: Diversity and Cultural Awareness


Defining and Promoting Student Success
A National Symposium
November 21-22, 2008
University of San Francisco
San Francisco, California


Wayne M. Tanna, Chaminade University

Richard Kido, Chaminade University

Candice Sakuda, Chaminade University

Michael Fassiotto, Chaminade University

Numerous studies have demonstrated how service learning increases retention, provides for a better quality education, increases the relevancy of education to students, and teaches positive values such as leadership, citizenship, and personal responsibility. Service learning in the Freshman Seminar (CUH100) at Chaminade University has been used to increase our students’ awareness of diversity as well as forging a stronger connection to peers, instructors, and the community. The design and implementation of the course is enhanced through the working partnerships between and among faculty, academic administrators, student personnel administrators, and community organizations. The course also serves as an entry point to an intentionally devised “pathway” of classes that engage the pedagogy of service learning throughout the student’s academic career at Chaminade.

The Freshman Seminar at Chaminade is a one credit class that has been designed to accomplish three main goals: 1) to assist students in acclimating to life (academic, social and spiritual) at a private, Catholic Marianist university; 2) to enhance the students’ awareness and acceptance of diversity; and 3) to engage students in meaningful service which benefits the community and strengthens’ students connections with both their fellow students and the community at large.

Located in Hawai’i, one of the most diverse states in the U.S., Chaminade University has consistently been rated as one of the most diverse institutions of higher education in the country. However, the existence of a diverse student body alone is not enough; institutions need to utilize the diversity of their student bodies as a tool to increase tolerance and acceptance. Universities need to move their students and their communities to the point where diversity is celebrated and not merely acknowledged in statistical reports to accreditation bodies.

Through the Freshman Seminar, the rich mix of students at Chaminade is immediately exposed to the diversity in Hawai’i. This exposure goes beyond the traditional black/white, male/female view of diversity. The variety of projects and activities that are part of the CUH100 curriculum provide a safe and productive experience for students. These experiences invite students to become members of the community while challenging faculty to be more innovative and creative in all of their teaching.

History of Service Learning at Chaminade University
Service learning has been a part of Chaminade University’s curriculum since 1994, when the Hawai’i State Campus Compact was formed. In 1995, Chaminade offered three service learning (S-L) courses; since then, more than ten times that number have been offered. A variety of S-L courses, in every discipline, have involved more than thirty faculty.

In 2007, Chaminade was placed on the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll and was one of three universities nationwide selected to receive the Presidential Award for Service to Youth from Disadvantaged Circumstances. Chaminade is the first institution from Hawai’i to win the award.

The National and Community Service Act of 1990 defines service learning as a method under which students or participants learn and develop through active participation in thoughtfully organized service that:

  • is conducted in and meets the needs of a community;
  • is coordinated with an elementary school, secondary school, institution of higher education, or community service program, along with the community;
  • helps foster civic responsibility;
  • is integrated into and enhances the academic curriculum of the students of the educational components of the community service program in which the participants are enrolled;
  • provides structured time for the students to reflect on the service-experience.

Chaminade’s accepted definition of service learning states: Service learning is a method by which students learn through active participation in thoughtfully organized service conducted in and meeting the needs of the community. Service learning is integrated into and enhances the academic curriculum. It includes structured means for reflection on the service experience and helps to foster civic and corporate responsibility. As pedagogy, service learning emerges from experiential learning theory and encourages active student involvement in the learning process http://www.chaminade.edu/service_learning/.

Much of our work in service learning is supported by grants from the Corporation for National and Community Service (grants administered by the Hawai’i and Pacific Island Campus Compact) and the Hawai’i Community Foundation. Chaminade University funds a director position which supports the collaborative successes of our students, faculty, and community partners through its Service Learning Program.

One of our special service efforts is Project SHINE, an acronym for Students Helping in Naturalization of Elders. For nearly ten years, Chaminade students have worked with Kapi’olani Community College and the University of Hawai’i at Manoa to help elder immigrants learn the English and civic skills necessary for becoming citizens. Now part of a national consortium, this successful tutorial was the brainchild of a local grassroots community organization, the Chinese Community Action Coalition. While Chaminade students examine culture/ethnicity in America, legal & ethical issues, the roots of poverty in our communities, religion, or teaching techniques, they learn from and help empower those who are marginalized. Project SHINE has also serves as the ideal entry point to introduce Chaminade’s freshman to both service learning and diversity, through both the students’ hands on experience and their reflections on those experiences.

Background Information on Project SHINE
In the mid-1990s, the United States tightened its immigration policies and implemented Federal Welfare Reform. This legislation increased the strain on immigrant communities throughout the country. As a direct result, Hawaii saw cutbacks in social services and welfare provisions for its non-U.S. citizens. The Chinese Community Action Coalition (CCAC), a non-profit grassroots organization, responded. In 1996, the CCAC developed the Honolulu Chinese Citizenship Tutorial Program (HCCTP) – to help immigrants pass the naturalization examination for U.S. citizenship.

The HCCTP’s successes have involved student tutors from UH-Manoa, Chaminade, KCC, HCC, HPU, and Michigan State. Inspired by the HCCTP, similar service learning opportunities have evolved at other sites, such as the Filipino Community Center. Each local program attracts student tutors each semester.

Project SHINE has become a national service learning initiative and supports the Hawaii tutorials by engaging college students in English language tutoring and intensive review of the INS exam’s civics material. The Hawaii tutorials have also been extensively assessed for quality and educational impact. Assessments are also conducted to measure the outcomes in relation to the learning objectives of the Freshman Seminar class. The results of these assessments have demonstrated that students in the course have achieved a greater awareness of various aspects of diversity.

Service across and throughout the Curriculum: the Business Pathway
The impact of service learning and its resulting impact on students as well as the community outside our campus are dramatically increased through the process of linking courses throughout the students’ academic career. The business program at Chaminade has successfully utilized tutorial projects like Project SHINE to introduce students to various marketing, organizational behavior, and legal concepts that are an integral part of the curriculum in the business major.

Service learning was first introduced to Chaminade University through a senior level accounting class (Federal Income Taxation). The project, which continues today, is part of an Internal Revenue Service’s volunteer program, Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA). VITA was started over 40 years ago and has been adopted by many universities across the United States as a service learning project. The Chaminade program is unique in that our students perform their tax assistance services at homeless shelters across the state. The project is done in partnership with a local legal aid organization on whose board of directors the primary faculty sponsor of the project serves. The program was featured as a National Best Practice for Town and Gown Interaction by the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC). The program description can be found on the CIC website http://www.cic.edu/projects_services/epe/chaminade.asp

The tax assistance program requires that students be able to interact with a very diverse group of clients. The prior and continuous exposure to diversity in the various service learning projects leading up to participation in the tax project has been an essential part of the students’ success in this project.

Summary of the Homeless Shelter Tax Assistance Program
Accounting and business students have assisted the elderly, homeless, and working poor communities for over 20 years by providing free income tax preparation and personal budget planning assistance. The current partnership with Volunteer Legal Services Hawaii began in 1998. In these service based experiential learning settings, students develop technical competencies and gain better understanding of diversity and government policy that affects those who are poor or do not have a mastery of the English language.

The Practice
Currently tax clinics are conducted each tax season at eight different homeless transition shelters, two domestic violence shelters, and the only emergency homeless shelter on the island of Oahu. Partnerships with the community include for-profit, nonprofit and governmental sectors. Since 1998, our main partner in this project has been Volunteer Legal Services Hawaii’s homeless shelter legal clinic and nonprofit programs.

Student tax aides are usually accounting and business management majors who enroll in tax classes. Preparation is provided in special tax training classes that occur before or at the very start of the spring semester. Other volunteers are students who have participated in prior years. Students are tested for competency by the professor and the IRS. Intentional learning outcomes include technical skill development in doing a tax return, interviewing skills, research of tax law issues, collaborative working with other professionals, computer tax software application, and an increased understanding of diversity and government policy as it affects the poor or non-native English speakers.

The clinics are designed so that those acquiring services through student tax assistance learn both how to do their own taxes and how to assist others in the future. Additionally, the persons assisted by the students become teachers themselves, teaching the students their own kinds of wisdom, humility, and perseverance. Staff and students who participate in this program also learn compassion and empathy for those less fortunate than themselves.

The organization serving as the main community partner both conducts needs assessments and administers quality assurance surveys to all acquirers of these services, consistently reporting a high level of satisfaction. Records for the past six years indicate that this project has facilitated and aided individuals and families to receive $500,000 in otherwise non-claimed refunds. Over the lifetime of this collaborative work, over $2,000,000 has been recovered for eligible individuals and families. The results of the project and some student reflections have been reported in local newspapers and the instructor and his students have been interviewed by various media outlets. An example of a story featuring the project can be viewed at: http://the.honoluluadvertiser.com/article/2003/Apr/04/ln/ln07a.html

Student tax aide work is evaluated by the clients, with there being no difference in satisfaction between student volunteers and the CPA and tax attorneys that are also providing these services. Students report significant learning and an increase in social awareness. Student perspectives have been validated by their reflections, both those assigned as a part of the class and those publicly documented by the news media. Many students return after graduation to assist with the program. As an indicator of success from an academic perspective, a number of students participating in this program find employment with CPA firms soon after graduation.

Both the direct community application of the scholarship and academic presentations of this work by the principal faculty member have played a role in his promotions to full professor and acquiring tenure.

Finalizing the Business Program Pathway: Creating the FAFSA Project
Project SHINE contributes to the students’ understanding of diversity and facilitates their ability to work with a diverse client group. However, the need to develop the students’ subject matter competence, including critical thinking and problem solving abilities is still needed.

As a part of our intentional development of the business program pathway, a middle skill building project was needed in addition to the projects that centered on diversity and cultural awareness. The bridge came at a reflection workshop where Accounting Professor Richard Kido came up with a question: Is there anyone helping students attending our public school partners fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) to qualify for monies for college educations? The answer from across the nation was “no” – there was no existing service learning program addressing this problem. The idea gained momentum as the appropriate nature of such a project for Chaminade’s business school became obvious. Whereas higher level accounting classes were filing tax returns for the poor, these lower level students could gain experience for that project by helping with the FAFSA. So WE built it, and they came!

During the project, a sense of community grew within each class as well as across the participating classes. Although the relationships that were arranged through the program were one-on-one, accounting student with client/family, all the students worked together to provide quality service with the supervision and guidance of their professors.

The students ultimately presented their ongoing work together on Service Learning Day. The project has been so successful that several other high schools have contacted us requesting assistance. Helping groups of young adults prepare obtain needed funding to attend college has become the element needed to complete the pathway begun in the Freshman Seminar and completed in the VITA project. There are many bright futures to come for the projects on this pathway out of poverty.