Santa Clara University

A Pedagogy of Engagement: Community-Based Learning

"The real measure of our Jesuit universities," said Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., "lies in who our students become." With community-based learning, our students are gaining an education that no classroom alone can offer. And they are becoming leaders of competence, conscience, and compassion.

So what exactly is community-based learning? It is an approach to education which recognizes that what we learn is connected intimately to how we learn it. Through community-based learning, students experience reality from the perspective of the "other"—of the poor, of the underrepresented, of the marginalized.

Our core values

Community-based learning is informed by the Jesuit tradition. It fosters moral and spiritual development. It enables faculty and students to better pursue truth from numerous perspectives. The experience encourages intellectual development, a deeper understanding of discipline-specific concepts, commitment to active global citizenship, and vocational discernment.

The community benefits tremendously as well—not simply because of the skills that faculty and students bring, but because the process of collaborating changes the way community members see themselves and their relationship with the University. The program has affected the lives of thousands, in ways both simple and profound.

How does community-based learning change lives?

  • Students and faculty, by learning with and from community partners, experience the realities of the world for the purpose of fashioning a more humane and just society.
  • Students learn that knowledge is not limited to the classroom, labs, and library but has practical applications to the broader world—and that the use of this knowledge is for the good of the community as well as personal growth.
  • Young people in the community who had never imagined college as a possibility have discovered, through programs with Santa Clara students, that they can and should pursue higher education.

Given this, it seems natural that community-based learning has taken an increasingly prominent role in the University's mission, becoming an integral part of the Santa Clara curriculum.

Students in arts and sciences, engineering, business and law all have the opportunity to participate. The University's Centers of Distinction foster intense community engagement and connections between researchers, classroom teachers, students and neighbors on subjects of ethics, social justice, and technology for the good of humanity. And the new core curriculum will provide even more chances for undergraduates to engage with our community—local, regional, national, and global.

Worth the effort

It's no secret that service learning programs are resource- and labor-intensive. But these programs work, and we've learned they're worth the investment. How do we know community-based learning is succeeding at SCU?

External recognition is one measure:

  • The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching has chosen SCU as a pilot site for a new category within the Foundation's Classification of Institutions of Higher Education: institutions committed to community engagement.
  • The national press recognized SCU's pre-eminence in service learning. The Christian Science Monitor devoted a major feature to an SCU photography class and their engagement with families at a homeless shelter. The Chronicle of Higher Education told the story of our Health Care Ethics Internship collaboration with local hospitals.
  • U.S. News & World Report ranks SCU as one of America's top colleges for service learning programs.
  • President Bush lauded SCU's community service efforts and Katrina hurricane relief service in particular in 2006.

But success in service learning is more than this.

  • Success is students becoming uncomfortable and finding meaning in their discomfort.
  • Success is students grasping the proffered opportunity, experiencing the others' perspectives, and fully reflecting on what the experience means to their own lives.
  • Success is students developing a relationship with people they have no other way of encountering. The reality of the "other" is not only better understood but more deeply felt.

"Community-based learning introduces all of us to worlds beyond Santa Clara," says Gerdenio "Sonny" Manuel, S.J., rector of the Jesuit Community and one of the founders of the Arrupe Partnerships for Community-Based Learning. "It provides a reality-based education that can't be achieved without expanding our experience and horizon. The community does us a service by holding up a mirror, reflecting what still needs to be learned."

In this report you'll find stories of students, faculty, and community members who are touched by SCU's Arrupe programs and by other forms of service learning. You may also find yourself seeing the University and its relation to the community as you never have before.