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Nicholls stresses service-learning, volunteerism

THIBODAUX – With faculty, staff and students having volunteered approximately 176,000 hours of community service in 2008, administrators at Nicholls State University anticipate another productive, service-filled year in 2009-10.

“The impact of our university on the surrounding community is immense,” Dr. Stephen T. Hulbert, university president, said. “Even a cursory examination of the Economic and Community Impact Study (commissioned by Nicholls and the University of Louisiana System and released earlier this year) reveals as much. In addition to our academic core – which of course defines our primary mission – the study indicates that for every dollar invested in this university, the Bayou Region’s economy enjoys an eight-dollar return. If you pair this figure with the tens of thousands of volunteer hours contributed by faculty, staff and students as they perform valuable community services, the value of our university becomes clear. Certainly the year 2009 will be no exception.”

According to the study, student participation in community service has a positive impact on leadership ability, grades, retention, degree aspirations, critical thinking skills and commitment to helping others in difficult situations. Plus, college graduates are more likely to volunteer and participate in civic activities.

Nicholls students have participated in events such as “X-treme Spring Break,” during which students sacrificed their spring vacations to work on homes for Habitat for Humanity.

Nicholls also stresses mentoring programs with area schools. As part of the final year of the University of Louisiana System Serves grant, Nicholls is establishing a program that will increase emphasis on Pre-K-12 partnerships – a natural outgrowth of the symbiotic relationship Nicholls has with local elementary and secondary schools.

Students have also volunteered their services overseas. Rachal Sollie, for example – a senior education major from Baton Rouge – spent more than two months in the southern African nation of Namibia this summer teaching art, library, math and English classes to middle school students. Dr. Lisa Lauer, assistant professor of education and pre-K-3 education advisor, formally recommended Sollie for the program, sponsored by WorldTeach, a program founded at Harvard University.

“There is no value you can put on experience, whether in Africa or Thibodaux,” Sollie said about service-learning. “The only way you can really learn is to do it, and if you can help others in the process, that’s the best way to do it. Every student should embrace service-learning and volunteer work. It enhances your education tenfold.”

University administrators agree, encouraging faculty and staff to develop annual goals related to service-learning. Currently there are 40 service-learning courses available, with the majority added within the last two years.

“Nicholls has been the window to the world for generations of students who would never have had the opportunity to experience a culture different than their own,” said R.E. “Bob” Miller, president of Major Equipment and Remediation in Morgan City. “Because of the rather cloistered geographical area that Nicholls serves, it may be the most effective university in the state by educating and exposing students to a world from which they have been cut off, due to culture, poverty and geography.”

To access the complete Economic and Community Impact Study, go to http://www.nicholls.edu/impactstudy/.

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