Laila Shishineh is Assistant Director of UMBC’s Office of Undergraduate Education.
I coordinate the Collegiate Success Institute (CSI), a six week summer bridge program in which new students can participate during the summer before they start college at UMBC. This past summer was CSI’s fifth, and my third with the program. 35 first-year students participated. Each summer the CSI program strives to teach new students the rigor of college academics, the importance of getting involved at UMBC, how to explore the geographic areas closest to campus, and much more. Students take one or two college courses while participating in a slew of co-curricular activities, from campus workshops to field trips to Baltimore and Washington D.C.
During my first two years with the program, service-learning played a very small role. Typically students would complete a single day of service with little or no organized reflection on the experience. This year I made the decision to revamp CSI’s approach to service-learning. I wanted to help students understand how service can be a gateway to lifelong engagement, and can help build the skills they will need to make a real difference in connection with the issues they care about. I also wanted them to experience several different types of service, in hope that at least one of their experiences would pique their interest and help them commit to service throughout their time as UMBC students and beyond.
Based on this mission, I met with several folks on campus and contacted service sites to try to create a new experience for the CSI students. Students in the program completed a preparation workshop where they learned about the Shriver Center and shared the types of service experiences they had participated in during high school. This pre-flection also focused on helping them understand and define what service meant to them. Then each week of the program, the entire group went to a different service site and performed various types of service activities, ranging from cleaning up Patapsco Valley to sorting food at the Maryland Food Bank. During the last week of the program, students wrote a reflection on the service learning experiences they had during the summer and pondered how they would like to build on what they started this summer once they returned for the fall semester.
One goal of this new format was to serve as a bridge to deeper civic commitments and involvement. Another was to provide students with a more holistic experience with service learning and encourage them to continue participating as soon as they started their college careers in the fall. Based on evaluations from the program and students’ reflections, these goals were met and exceeded. Students really enjoyed the service component of the CSI program and it was one of the highest ranked co-curricular activities of the summer. As I plan for future summers of the CSI program, I know that continuing to incorporate service learning opportunities will definitely be one of my top priorities.