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Making an IMPACT: NU transforms its approach to service learning

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Wed, Jan 25th 2017 04:35 pm

By Niagara University

Niagara University is strategically transforming its approach to service learning and student engagement in the community.

The Catholic and Vincentian university's flagship service program, Learn and Serve Niagara, was established in 1994 through a grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service. Its success prompted Niagara to make the program a permanent fixture. Data illustrates NU students currently perform 1,000 hours of service to the community every week through Learn and Serve Niagara.

Moving forward, NU's service learning program will be known as IMPACT, a rebrand that reflects its measured approach to instilling a model of collective impact that creates systemic change through project-based experiential learning. The transformation of Learn and Serve allows for a more comprehensive and individualized service program, which places more emphasis on professional and personal growth versus a model that highlights hours of service.

At the heart of IMPACT's mission is the advancement of the culture of civic and community engagement that exists at NU through closer alignment with the university's Vincentian mission and strategic vision commitments. Application of the model will accentuate career prep and workforce development through service.

Operationally, broader integration of civic and community engagement into the university's academic curricula will leverage the expertise of NU professors and strengthen the mentor-mentee relationship between faculty and students. The interdisciplinary focus on addressing identified community shortfalls is designed to foster systemic change in the region and beyond.

"The IMPACT model will provide our students with a deeper understanding of Niagara University's Catholic and Vincentian mission to serve those most in need, and the importance of lifelong civic engagement," said the Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., president of Niagara University. "With St. Vincent de Paul and the Vincentian mission as our inspirations, students, working side by side with faculty and administrators, will learn how to identify problems, take action and see themselves as agents of change, thus mobilizing a 21st century workforce that is prepared to recognize and address long-term community needs. That is 'The Power of Niagara University.' "

The IMPACT model requires students to construct projects they will implement over the course of their academic careers, and that make quantifiable differences in areas of community need. The phases of progression include freshman discovery, sophomore planning, junior implementation, and senior reflection and assessment.

Projects will focus on regional needs that are identified annually by program administrators in consultation with community stakeholders. However, students will not be restricted from undertaking service projects in their hometowns or that are of special interest to their respective academic program or area of study.

To ensure long-term commitment, alumni will also be surveyed on the status of the impact that they are making in their communities after graduation.  

NU draws inspiration from St. Vincent de Paul, who organized his contemporaries to respond compassionately to people's basic needs. Continuing this tradition, Niagara has a long history of serving the local, regional and global communities.

For its dedication to service learning, NU has been included on the President's Honor Roll for Community Service every year since its inception, and recognized with the Carnegie Foundation's Classification for Community Engagement. In addition, national publications such as U.S. News and World Report annually praise the efforts the university's students and employees make on behalf of those in need.

Visit www.niagara.edu.

Pictured in the back row following Wednesday's IMPACT service learning announcement are Christian Hoffman, communications and development manager for Community Missions of Niagara Frontier; the Rev. Joseph L. Levesque, C.M., president emeritus of Niagara University; the Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., president of Niagara University; and William Bradberry, chair of the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Commission Inc. Seated are Dr. David Taylor, director of the Levesque Institute; Patricia Wrobel, executive director for external relations for IMPACT; and Dominic Hannon, a communication studies major at NU.

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