Northeastern University: Center of Community Services

Tips for Maximizing Your Service-Learning Partnership

Our goal is that all service-learning (S-L) partnerships are mutually beneficial for community partners, faculty, students, and the university. For that reason, we offer resources and support to all of our community partners to help maximize the potential benefits of their partnership.

After many semesters of data collection, feedback, and trial and error, we’ve identified three specific targets to promote partnership success for all stakeholders:

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At the beginning of each semester, current community partners are provided with the following resources to help support their partnership: (samples provided from Spring 2016)

Frequently Asked Questions

Deciding to Partner with the Service-Learning Program

Preparing for the Semester

During the Semester

Deciding to Partner with the Service-Learning Program

What are the benefits of partnering with the Service-Learning Program at Northeastern?

Based on 2014-2015 final evaluations, our community partners reported the following benefits:

  • 68% of partners reported that their S-L partnership increased their or their staff’s ability to fulfill responsibilities and goals
  • 60% of partners reported that students and faculty brought new energy to their organization
  • 43% of partners reported that their S-L partnership increased the number of clients or youth served
  • 59% of partners reported that their S-L partnership improved their current service programs or program offerings
  • 37 community partners reported gaining new insights to support their own organization through their S-L partnership
  • 35% of partners reported saving their organization money because of additional support of students/faculty

What does the Service-Learning Program and its associated staff members do for community partners?

The Service-Learning Program supports partnerships between academic courses, faculty members, and community partners by:

  • matching community partners (you) with faculty members and courses that are likely able to meet your identified need;
  • providing space for you to connect with your faculty partner through a Partnership Orientation at the beginning of the semester;
  • training a Service-Learning Teaching Assistant (S-LTA) to be a point person for your partnership with a given course and assign students from the class to your organization (if applicable);
  • providing a minimum of two students (via S-L courses) to serve throughout the semester to work towards your identified need; and
  • facilitating multiple check points and a thorough evaluation process to help ensure that your partnerships are on track for success.

What are the minimum responsibilities of me and my organization if we want to become an S-L partner?

When applying to partner through S-L, we ask that community partners take on the following responsibilities:

  • Attend a Partnership Orientation before the semester.
  • Orient (and train, if necessary) students to your organization and their service role/project.
  • Set and communicate clear expectations of service goals, including any benchmarks or important dates.
  • Provide one designated supervisor who is available to provide supervision, feedback, and support to students.
  • Complete CORI/SORI checks on students (only if required by your organization).
  • Ensure students begin service within 4 weeks of the start of the semester if in a weekly service role.
  • Provide access to resources (space, computer, phone, data, etc.) if required to complete service tasks.
  • Provide feedback to students, staff, S-LTAs, and/or faculty members about student performance and partnership, challenges and successes.
  • Complete 2 online evaluations: mid-semester check-in and final evaluation of students, the partnership, and your overall experience with the program.
  • Attend the S-L EXPO at the end of the semester.

If you are interested in partnering, please visit the Become a Partner [hyperlink] section of our website to learn more.

Preparing for the Semester

How do I get students to serve with my organization once I have been accepted as a partner?

For the most part, S-L students are assigned to a community partner by their S-LTA or faculty member based on mutual scheduling needs, interests, skills, and preferences (students are not guaranteed their first choice). We recognize that some organizations may request to interview students interested in serving with them. We don’t encourage this due to the tight timeline of the semester. However, if an interview must take place, the process must be completed and students informed of their status within two weeks of the start of the semester so that other options may be pursued for the student to be successful. Some faculty members are open to or prefer that community partners visit their class at the beginning of the semester to highlight their organization to students. This should be arranged on a case-by-case basis with the S-LTA and/or faculty member.

How many students will serve with my organization?

There is not a cap on the number of students that can serve with your organization in a given semester. In the RFP process we ask organizations to tell us how many students they are interested in hosting. Once accepted, we can estimate a range in the number of students we expect to be able to serve with you based on course enrollment and other factors. We cannot guarantee that we can fulfill your need in terms of quantity, but we will certainly try. However, we do ask that community partners host a minimum of 2 students so that they have a shared experience with their peers. S-L operates on a minimum policy of 2 students, meaning if we agree to a partnership for the semester, we will do everything possible to ensure that we provide that number of students from across the program to serve with your organization in one capacity or another. Only in rare cases are we unable to uphold this policy (such as unexpected student withdrawal from the course, course cancellation, or scheduling conflicts).

Do I have to take all the students in the group at once?

No. We prefer to have two or more students from a given course serve with the same organization so that they have a shared experience, but they can gain some of that through their in-class reflection; it does not need to happen on site. We are interested in meeting your needs, not adding to your work.

Does NU provide the students with CORI/SORI checks?

No, we are not able to provide that to our students. If this is something that your organization requires of its volunteers, then we simply ask that you facilitate that same process for our students as you would for any volunteer coming through your organization.

During the Semester

Do I need to teach the course content to the students?

Your role as professional, mentor, and co-educator to students is invaluable, but you are not required to teach course content to the students. Some partners choose to integrate a reflective component into the service role, but this is not required.

Do I grade the students?

Community partners do not assign letter grades to students because grades are determined by the faculty member. However, community partners are asked to complete a final online evaluation of the students and their partnerships (individuals or groups). Your feedback is then provided to faculty members before grades are due so that it can be factored into the grading process (each faculty member has their own grading strategy). Some faculty members may also ask you to provide feedback on a student’s’ final deliverable if applicable, and will arrange this with you on a case-by-case basis.

What if the quality of the students’ work does not meet my standards or expectations?

Service-Learning is a learning process for all, which means that there will naturally be variance in the quality of student work. If an issue is identified through the course of their service, please address the challenges with the student directly and notify your faculty member and/or S-LTA. Mid-semester check-ins are built in to catch as many challenges as possible, and may be accompanied by a site visit. If you are working with a group of students as consultants who are making recommendations to you based on research, you are not required to implement any student ideas – although we always aim for student work to be of the highest quality and worthy of implementation by a community partner.

Can a partnership be terminated after an agreement has been made?

There are many communication and feedback mechanisms in place to help address issues before they progress. However, in rare situations a partnership may end prematurely if student learning, service, or community partner goals are not able to be met. This is never our preference, and we will work with our partners as much as possible to ensure course/program and community objectives can be met before termination. Decisions will be made after agreement between all stakeholders.