Service Learning Academy wins action award


Members of the Volunteer Center pose with their Action Program of the Year Award.

Jessica Pokrandt, Staff Writer

On Feb. 15, the six board members of the Volunteer Center set off to St. Louis for the 2017 IMPACT National Conference, the largest national gathering of student leaders and faculty of programs such as Madison College’s Service Learning Academy. They returned Sunday evening with the Action Program of the Year Award.

Samantha Hunter, alternative breaks coordinator for the Volunteer Center, planned the trip. It was a bit of a challenge, since everyone going had a different schedule. No two board members attended the same workshop, because they wanted to get as much out of the conference as possible. At the end of each day, they would share what they had learned with each other. The experience was not limited to conferences. One day, they served at a food outreach center with students from other colleges that have programs similar to the Service Learning Academy.

“We all really enjoyed it. We didn’t have a bad time, that’s for sure,” Hunter says about the experience.

The highlight of the trip was winning the Action Program of the Year Award, which recognizes campus-based, student-led programs, such as the Service Learning Academy, that contribute to making their campuses and communities a better place. Gloria Stendel, executive director of the Volunteer Center, founded the Service Learning Academy the Spring semester of 2016 with Luke Andersen, and is proud of the growth of the program she has witnessed.

“Madison College was able to beat out the four-year schools,” says Stendel. “We beat out Stanford, Harvard, UCLA, Yale—all the big names, they were all at the conference, and Madison College won this national award.”

Members of the Volunteer Center participate in a service learning activity.
Photo Provided to the Clarion
Members of the Volunteer Center participate in a service learning activity.

She is still amazed by the growth of the program. The first semester it began, the Service Learning Academy had 24 students. After efforts to reach more people, such as sending mass emails, creating a new brochure and tabling outside Student Life, that number rose to 41 for the Fall 2016 semester. Now, membership has grown to 81 students, and Hunter and Stendel are excited for the future of the Service Learning Academy. They currently share space with Student Life in Room A2020, but they look forward to moving into their new location downstairs in the near future.

The number of organizations involved has grown as well, meaning there are more options for students to choose from. The Service Learning Academy works to pair teams of students with community nonprofit organizations that relate to their programs or interests. For example, nursing students might partner with Karmenta Nursing Home, reading, playing games or just talking with the seniors. For students who want to work with children, volunteers at the East Madison Community Center after-school daycare provide tutoring and homework help.

Urban League, Schools of Hope at Wright Middle School, the River Food Pantry and Community Action Coalition are other service opportunities. Stendel plans to have even more organizations involved next semester, including possibly the UW-Madison Arboretum and the Henry Vilas Zoo.

Interest in the Service Learning Academy has spread as it becomes more visible in the community. The Service Learning Academy partnered with the Community Action Coalition for Koats for Kids, which received more than 4,000 donated coats. The event was covered by Channel 3. Winning the Action Program Award provides even more exposure. On a personal level, Hunter and Stendel feel their hard work and dedication is paying off.

“Anything you put your heart open to, you can do,” says Hunter.

Stendel agrees. “This is probably the proudest moment of my Madison College career here,” she says, “that something that I co-created actually won a national award.”