California State University, Long Beach
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Community Service Recognized

Published: December 19, 2016

CSULB was one of 14 CSU campuses to be named this fall to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll, the highest federal honor that universities can receive for their commitment to community service, service learning and civic engagement.

The honor roll recognizes U.S. colleges and universities that support exemplary community service programs and raise the visibility of best practices in campus community partnerships. CSU campuses have consistently been recognized since the honor roll was created in 2006 by the Corporation for National and Community Service.

The honor roll lists the 14 CSU campuses among three categories—general community service, education services and economic opportunity services. CSULB was recognized in the category of general community service along with such CSUs as Fullerton, Northridge and San Bernardino.

“The best thing about being named to the honor roll is how it helps the Center for Community Engagement (CCE) to advance the university’s mission,” said center director Juan Benitez, a member of the university since 2001. “It’s not an award for the Center as much as it is an award for the campus. This award recognizes everyone on this campus who engages with the community through volunteering, organizations and clubs. This honor speaks to our partnerships with community-based organizations and the many groups we work with.”

Carina Sass, associate director of the center and a member of the university since 2001, believes that the distinction impacts the community, faculty and staff.

“Community service helps the university to see its role in the larger community,” she said. “The most significant thing about service learning is what happens when students take what they learn in the classroom and apply that to real-life situations. You can’t replicate that depth of learning in a classroom alone.”

Benitez noted that community service helps CSULB realize its concept of citizenship.

“I’m not talking about the legal aspects of being a citizen,” he said. “I’m talking about what that concept does to reflect that you are a contributing member of society. Community service learning captures that essence of what it means to contribute back to the community.”

Community service boosts a student’s employability.

“It helps students do a better job of marketing themselves,” he said. “In the 21st century, citizens need 21st century skill sets. Those don’t come just from the classroom. They come from internships and research. Service learning helps a student acquire a hands-on approach to problem-solving. Community service enriches the educational experience while, at the same time, leveraging university resources toward the community.”

An example of how service increases employability is the university’s Saturday MBA program, Sass feels. “The MBA program with a sustainability focus is aimed at mid-level professionals who already have careers,” she explained. “Our Saturday MBA students work with non-profit organizations to help them establish business plans for social entrepreneurship. They assess physical plants in terms of sustainability. The students talk about having transformative experiences. Even if students are not in a serving profession, they learn here how to take from their major and apply it to a larger context.”

President's Honor Roll Logo

The center has come a long way, according to Benitez.

“We have evolved from a purely service-learning point of view to a more expansive view of community engagement,” he said. “It has evolved from the vanguard of a few committed faculty and students to courses in every college today. At any point of any semester, around 3,000 students participate but we could do better.”

Students have several ways to experience community service through the CCE including service learning, work study, volunteer opportunities and community-based research.

“First, if you are enrolled in a class that has service learning as an option, you are already in. Second, if you want to find out how to become involved in some community project, we have that information here,” said Benitez. “We get requests every week for volunteers. Then there is the Beach Board Volunteer Exchange where students can check off what they are interested in such as health fairs or after-school tutoring. There are programs and initiatives at the center that reach out to South L.A. or civic forums on ballot measures or even the Catalina Island Conservancy.”

According to Carmen Arreola, community engagement coordinator for the center, the honor roll inclusion validates the university’s commitment to community service learning.

“One, it allows us to bring light to issues and opportunities that students, faculty and staff may not be aware of,” she said. “Two, it represents a good opportunity for us as a center to highlight the work done by faculty, staff and students.”

Sass added that the recognition resembles an iceberg that conceals as much as it reveals.

“We received this honor for only a fraction of what is going on at CSULB,” she said. “So many folks are doing so many things that are hidden. If we could access everything that is going on at this campus, this would be only a small part.”