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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

New Position Will Place Increased Emphasis on Service Learning

For Emily Eddins, Old Dominion University checks all the boxes of an institution poised to incorporate meaningful service-learning efforts into its teaching and research.

"I really view it as a university with so many great programs and opportunities going on," said Eddins, who filled a brand-new position when she started as ODU's assistant director of service learning on Jan. 27. "There is so much opportunity for interdisciplinary service learning that can be done on a local, national and international level."

Service learning is a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with central course themes in ways that promote reflection, teach civic responsibility and strengthen communities. The goal of service learning at ODU is to educate, engage and equip students with skills and experiences that connect the school's rigorous academic curriculum with meaningful and tangible public work to strengthen communities for a sustainable future.

As a research university located in a major metropolitan area, ODU has sought to emphasize service, particularly through engaging with the surrounding community.

By hiring Eddins, ODU's Division of Student Engagement and Enrollment Services (SEES) is hoping to incorporate service learning into curricula campus-wide, provide support and resources for faculty, and raise awareness and recognition of service learning among current and prospective students.

Don Stansberry, assistant vice president for student engagement, said SEES is excited to have Eddins on board, "and to partner with our faculty to continue to grow service learning opportunities for our students. This position is another example of the partnership between SEES and academic affairs as we work together on aligning a student curricular and co-curricular experience."

Eddins said there are excellent models at ODU in existing service-learning programs, such as the Darden College of Education's CARE Now (Character and Resiliency Education: Now), a comprehensive in-and-after school program designed to promote resiliency and character in disadvantaged students who are transitioning to middle school and high school, with the primary goal of enhancing their academic achievement.

"It's such a well-planned and carefully executed program," Eddins said. "For the whole university to grow a service-learning culture, it's a matter of seeing how we can play off of the strengths of programs such as CARE Now. I view it as my role to help that happen."

Originally from Kansas City, Mo., Eddins initially became interested in service learning by leading volunteer sustainability programs in natural resources, including a conservation program in Australia. Through two trips to Australia, she began to look at the leadership and collaboration necessary to make such programs work.

"From a service-learning perspective, I found there wasn't a lot of literature on the collaborative nature of what makes these projects work - for the participants, the organization and from the host country perspective," she said.

Eddins earned a doctorate in human dimensions of natural resources from Colorado State University. Her dissertation involved helping to create service-learning initiatives in a remote part of Panama, through a partnership formed among CSU's Center for Protected Management and Training, the university's Alternative Break program and the Panamanian Center for Research and Social Action.

For her dissertation, Eddins spent several months in Achiote, a village of 600 in Panama, as part of an ecotourism development group. Her experience showed her there was opportunity not only to make a difference, but also to bring these lessons back to a university campus in the United States, to inspire the next generation of service learners to make a difference in their communities.

At Old Dominion, Eddins hopes to work on a process to engage the academic colleges in providing a service-learning curriculum, awarding certificates or notation on transcripts for completion of a series of service-learning courses.

In addition, Eddins said: "I'd love to see how community engagement scholarship or research done by our faculty and students can be integrated into our curriculum."