CPCS administrative assistant Arlene Melchiorre, left, helps a student find a service placement for her class.

Learning Laboratory

In fall 1994 CPCS officially opened for business in a small suite of offices in the Schine Student Center. It began as a pilot project with a full-time director, two student staff members, and a minimal operating budget underwritten by a three-year grant from the Carrier Corporation and funding from the Office of the Chancellor. Seven years later, the center has become a division of the Office of Academic Affairs. It places more than 4,000 student volunteers a year in the community, coordinates 1,800 student placements for 40 classes, maintains the University’s community involvement web site, and monitors a database of more than 400 community organizations in need of volunteers—all with a staff of 4 full-time professionals, 8 student Leadership interns, 2 graduate assistants, and 13 student van drivers. “We’re outgrowing our physical space, but we love this location because the Schine is where the action is,” says Arlene Melchiorre, administrative assistant at CPCS. “We encourage students to drop in anytime. Our double doors are swung wide open so students know they’re always welcome.”

Student Leadership intern Pamela Meyer '01 updates the service learning database.
      The CPCS office suite is a hub of non-stop activity. Phones ring, van drivers check and recheck their pickup schedules, and a steady stream of students drops by to scan the CPCS bulletin board for the latest news. On Wednesdays Literacy Corps tutors scramble to hand in their weekly time sheets, and on Friday afternoons they return for more training and to reflect on their tutoring experiences of the past week. Amid this flurry of activity, meaningful learning goes on under the watchful guidance of the CPCS staff. “The center has become a dynamic learning laboratory for everyone involved in public service,” Heintz says, “especially for the Student Leadership interns who help administer the service learning programs and recruit and train new volunteers.”
      Melissa Thibodeau ’01, who is majoring in policy studies in the College of Arts and Sciences and newspaper journalism in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, has been a Carrier Leadership Intern for almost two-and-a-half years. As the CPCS office resource coordinator, Thibodeau updates the bulletin board and combs through daily newspapers, collecting articles for the center’s archive on literacy and service learning. She also gathers information from students who want to volunteer, checks the computerized database to match their interests with the needs of various agencies, and then prepares packets of information for them with appropriate agency contacts. “My people skills have improved and I’m learning about organization,” Thibodeau says. “I’ve been given a lot of responsibility, but the CPCS staff is always there to help me realize my full potential. It’s nice to feel trusted and expected to give 100 percent.”
      Sometimes it’s a challenge to supervise such a young, energetic staff. Melchiorre, who oversees interns on a daily basis, has to make sure they stay on task and act professionally. “I’m always teaching them responsibility and professional skills,” she says. “I know I must be flexible with them at times, yet tough enough to demand excellence and instill a work ethic. That’s something they can’t always learn in a classroom.” Despite high staff turnover as seniors graduate, the center continues to thrive. “It’s awesome to see the student staff in action,” Thibodeau says. “We each have our own responsibilities, and somehow it all comes together.”
      Along with developing time management and professional skills, leadership interns learn about the community. Among other activities, they collect food for the Salvation Army on Dome Donation Day, help organize the United Way Days of Caring, tutor children at local schools, participate in the Comstock Kidfest, and teach children how to use computers at the Wilson Park Community Center. They also work with Success by Six, a United Way program designed to help children prepare for school. Last year, SU students gathered 16,000 new or “gently used” books from local businesses, and from sports fans attending basketball games in the Carrier Dome. “Our students sorted and catalogued the books and distributed them to doctor’s offices, day care centers, schools, and preschools in the Syracuse area,” Mary Ann Shaw says. “The CPCS student staff worked with Success by Six to make this happen.”

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