COMMUNITY SERVICE REQUIREMENT PREPARES GRADUATES FOR NEW LEADERSHIP ROLES
The School of Management (SOM) envisions its graduates becoming innovators and problem solvers, global strategists, and business leaders with a competitive edge over their peers. To prepare SOM students to prosper in the 21st-century global economy, the school has created a new undergraduate curriculum. The curriculum adds more skills-based courses during the freshman and sophomore years, a course in global business for sophomores, and a series of related courses in corporate finance, marketing, and operations management for upperclassmen.
Equally important, SOM graduates may one day be prepared for leadership positions in the public service arena because the new curriculum, which went into effect with the Class of 2002, requires every student to complete 35 hours of community service. “The program supports the school’s leadership theme, and its creation resulted from alumni suggestions,” says Gisela von Dran, director of the school’s Community Service and Internship Program. “Voluntarism reflects a distinctly American value and can help prepare students for public service leadership positions. We hope their experiences motivate them to continue to participate in community service activities that improve the quality of community life.”
To complete the community service requirement, students are encouraged to participate in the University’s Writing Program in the College of Arts and Sciences, which has developed a series of courses with community service components. Or, they can find placements through the ongoing activities of the University’s Center for Public and Community Service (CPCS). About half of the 200 students completed their community service requirement last spring through the Writing Program, von Dran says. “The University has such a wonderful community service tradition and infrastructure, we don’t have to go out and find service sites for our students,” she says. “We simply plug our students into the system.”
In addition to the existing service opportunities, the school is collaborating with CPCS to develop service experiences specifically designed for management students, von Dran says. One initiative that has emerged through the collaboration is the Balancing the Books program at Huntington Middle School. SOM students work with Huntington seventh- and eighth-graders on improving their math and reading skills. “We are there to act as mentors and to help build the study and work habits of students who are at risk of dropping out of school,” says Patricia Cameron ’02, student coordinator of the program. “The teachers and guidance counselors at Huntington are a joy to work with, and we gain as much from their knowledge and experience as the junior high school students do from us.”
STUDENTS EXPLORE CONTRASTING VIEWS OF DEMOCRACY IN CRITICAL ISSUES COURSE
About the time presidential candidates Al Gore and George W. Bush were on national television debating how much control the federal government should have over the educational system, Richard Braungart and his colleagues were having similar debates in front of first-year College of Arts and Sciences students taking Critical Issues for the United States (MAX 123). The lively discussions were entertaining, but also kept students focused on the liberal and conservative viewpoints being presented. “That’s probably one of the greatest rewards of this class,” Braungart says, “not only being able to teach students something of substance, but also having them enjoy learning.”
The team-taught course, which focuses on the tensions and possibilities inherent in American citizenship, isn’t always intended to be fun, Braungart says. He and his colleagues often present more traditional lectures. The class breaks up into small groups for most of the week, discussing the numerous assigned readings. The course is also writing-intensive, requiring students to produce seven essays. “We want them to develop a disciplined, rational way of writing,” Braungart says. “We have four two-page essays called response papers that address specific claims or ideas we encounter in the readings. We encourage each student to write lean, no-nonsense arguments, to develop a theme and follow only that idea in two pages, without bringing in superfluous material.” Later, the students are assigned three five-page essays that include supportive material. “Once they get the gist of it, they can respond quickly to substantive questions asked in essays,” Braungart says. “They’ll be better qualified to write term papers throughout the rest of their college careers.”
The course—along with a second course, Global Community—was created in 1993 by Maxwell Senior Associate Dean Robert McClure. Designed to be taken in sequence, the courses reflect Maxwell’s interdisciplinary approach to learning by bringing together teams of professors from throughout the school. Braungart, in his first year as team leader, credits McClure and original team leader Mark Rupert with creating a multilayered course. Through its four main themes—citizenship, the economy, the environment, and education—runs a liberal-conservative dilemma that students must resolve on their own. “The Maxwell School prepares students to be sensitive to their citizenship responsibility and to the issues being debated throughout the country, so when they leave here they can take an active role in these debates, not just react to what we’ve all been told,” Braungart says.
SarahKate Kirk ’04 says MAX 123 isn’t at all what she expected. “I thought I would sit in a lecture hall with 200 other students three times a week,” she says. “Instead, I sit with 200 students once a week, listen to an interesting and engaging lecture, then participate in small group sessions twice a week.” The group sessions are her favorite part of the course. Each of the 15 students in her group has a unique background and perspective on discussions. “This class allows for discussion and debate that is relevant to our society,” Kirk says. “It’s the kind of class I was hoping to find at Syracuse University. I’m only sorry I can’t take it again.”