Southern New Hampshire University
Community Service FWS at SNHU: The Best Stories
“Stories about what our students are doing in the community are some of the best stories I get to tell.” Paul LeBlanc, President
Southern New Hampshire University
President Paul LeBlanc came to Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) after serving as the President of Marlboro College in Vermont for seven years. He believes the university has an ethical commitment to be actively and positively involved in the local community, and has made this belief front and center in his administration. He speaks about this commitment in public addresses both on campus and off, and believes many others on campus share in his vision.
LeBlanc has worked to focus and coordinate SNHU’s public service efforts through the creation of an Office for Service and Citizenship. In addition to many opportunities for students to serve in the community, university staff are encouraged to be active in community service efforts, and space on campus is made available to local community based organizations.
The new Office for Service and Citizenship offers students the chance to find meaningful Federal Work-Study (FWS) positions with community organizations. Students serve in a wide variety of community organizations, such the Red Cross, YMCA, Salvation Army, and organizations serving new immigrants. Students can also work for the community while staying primarily on campus, for example, by leading a fundraising campaign for a camp serving terminally ill children.
According to LeBlanc, actively marketing the community service FWS jobs to students reinforces the values of the university. “Attaching money to work is always an indicator of value. It is a message to the students that community work is important to us,” he notes. He also believes work-study jobs in the community help students identify future career possibilities.
LeBlanc can articulate many benefits of the community service FWS efforts at his institution. He notes that many people believe negative stereotypes about cynical and disengaged college students, but says, “Presidents need to carry the flag for their institutions and their students. Stories about what our students are doing in the community are some of the best stories I get to tell.” When asked to speak with potential donors or in public settings such as Rotary meetings, LeBlanc enjoys sharing what the community service FWS students are doing. Community leaders are aware of the students’ efforts and thank him for the connection.
He also knows these experiences have many benefits for his students, including training, career exploration, and exposure to different people and experiences. “Any student who is able to attend college is privileged,” Le Blanc says. He believes some students are not aware of how privileged they are, but working in the community helps keep them grounded. He also believes there are likely links between work in the community and student retention.
“Work-study students are given more responsibility than a traditional volunteer. They are a critical member of the organization’s staff and given more opportunities. They are not just folding fliers, but help with planning, programming, and suggesting changes. This is very meaningful to the students involved.” Sarah Jacobs
Director, Center for Service and Citizenship
Southern New Hampshire University
The Center for Service and Citizenship at Southern New Hampshire University was created in 2005 to provide a clearinghouse of student opportunities to serve the community (e.g. volunteer, service-learning, and work-study positions). The Center’s director, Sarah Jacobs, supports faculty interested in service-learning, advises students and student groups who want to do service, coordinates service-oriented spring break trips, and generally helps students connect with local nonprofit organizations.
Before receiving a grant from Campus Compact for New Hampshire, the community service portion of Federal Work-Study was handled by SNHU’s Financial Aid office without a formal effort to build community partnerships or match student interests with community jobs. The Director of Student Activities was interested in increasing student volunteerism and applied for the grant to meet that goal. Now, Jacobs collaborates with Financial Aid in coordinating the program. Financial Aid continues to manage timecards and payments, while Jacobs helps students find a good “fit” for their interests among the available community placements.
Jacobs felt SNHU needed better marketing for community service FWS positions because students didn’t know about the opportunity. A student designer created a colorful brochure and logo for the new program, which was named SERVE: Students Employed in Rewarding Volunteer Experiences. The brochure describes the program and features photos of children and students together. The SERVE positions were highlighted at the campus job fair, and students are offered a higher wage than on-campus FWS jobs to attract them to the positions.
Students complete an application (see Appendices) and discuss their interests with Jacobs. She strives to screen out students who are “only interested in a job” and helps guide students who are really interested in serving the community to particular positions. Students then interview with the community organization(s) and complete a Student-Partner Agreement form. Once students start working, timecards are signed by both the student and community supervisor and submitted to Financial Aid to be processed.
Jacobs completes a site visit with each student, and both students and community supervisors complete written evaluations. The students also gather for an end-of-year reflection and celebration event that Jacobs organizes.
Comparing FWS with other community-based experiences, Jacobs notes, “Work-study students are given more responsibility than a traditional volunteer. They go every week and work all year long. They are a critical member of the organization’s staff and given more opportunities. They are not just folding fliers, but help with planning, programming, and suggesting changes. This is very meaningful to the students involved.”
Jacobs describes the value of FWS students to community partners thsi way: “Community partners are more apt to want work-study students as opposed to student volunteers. Partners are flooded with volunteers and service-learners from all the colleges and universities in Manchester, so they really like the consistency of the work-study students who see projects all the way through.”
Challenges include students’ inexperience. The FWS job is often a student’s first position in a professional setting, and some students “don’t know how to be an employee. There are expectations for how they dress, speak, and hold themselves. There is a steep learning curve for some students,” notes Jacobs. “I would like to do more training with students on these issues.” Another challenge is the intense nature of some community positions. “Students can’t always just leave their job behind. They experience things that upset them or are challenging, and that is very different than an on-campus job.” There are also challenges when a student simply decides to quit but neither the student nor the community supervisor informs Jacobs. These are issues she is working to improve.
Jacobs sees opportunities to expand the program by encouraging “star students” from each site to serve a second year helping coordinate other students coming to the site as volunteers or service-learners. This would help build the service-learning program, since community partners might be willing to take more service-learning students if they knew they had help managing them. This could also help create ways for students to serve more hours and use their full FWS award, which doesn’t always happen otherwise.
The administration at SNHU is very committed to involvement with the community, so the number of community service FWS positions is not limited. Jacobs feels “very lucky” to have such support.
“The students who have participated so far have really grown, matured, and gained new insights through their experiences that they could not get through an on-campus job,” she says. “I can’t think of a better way for students to learn outside of the classroom. I never realized the impact it could have!”
The following documents are included in the Appendices:
- Student Application Form
- Information & Application Materials for Community Partner Organizations
- Partner Job Description Form
- Time Card Authorization Procedures
- Employment Notification Form
Getting More Out of the Job
“Students benefit because they are getting much more out of it than a traditional on-campus job.” Darleen Ratte
Assistant Director of Financial Aid
Southern New Hampshire University
Darleen Ratte manages all of Southern New Hampshire University’s Federal Work-Study programs, which includes monitoring student accounts and spending, and making sure the institution meets the 7% requirement for community service positions. She works with Sarah Jacobs, the Director of the Center for Service and Citizenship, to connect students to the community service FWS positions.
SNHU’s community service FWS program wasn’t well developed before the institution received a grant from Campus Compact for New Hampshire. A professional in the Financial Aid area was tracking the off-campus positions, but no one was helping students find the right “fit” between a position in the community and their skills and interests. For example, a student in the Culinary program was working at the local YMCA in the youth sports program. “That wasn’t a good fit,” acknowledges Ratte.
Instead of just posting a list of community organizations on a bulletin board, the university now offers workshops and training to point students in the right direction off campus. Ratte developed a job application form that includes a checklist of students’ interests, including their academic major. Ratte and Jacobs look for organizations that match the students’ interests and promote particular opportunities to students. (See the Community Partnership Job Description Form in the Appendices.)
They also complete an exit interview with the students and most say they enjoy working with the community organizations. When problems come up, it is usually due to scheduling conflicts.
Ratte believes her increased focus and time spent on the community service positions benefits the university. She sees how the positions help develop students and change their perspectives about what they want to do in the future. “Students benefit because they are getting much more out of it than a traditional on-campus job,” she says. “They could sit in a file room, or organize an event for American Red Cross that 100 people attend and benefit from. Some students who otherwise have never done volunteer work will continue that pattern in the real world after graduation.”
Ratte’s advice to other Financial Aid professionals is that “It’s definitely worth putting more attention to community service positions. Promote it to students and they really benefit and gain from it.”
The Community Perspective: The Importance of Support
“Students shouldn’t just come to the organization to hang out and find things to do. Students need good support and supervision and have the opportunity to make connections.” Joyce Palmer
Community Outreach Director
SNHU Community Partner
The Manchester YMCA is the area’s largest provider of child care programs, youth sports, and aquatics. As Community Outreach Director, Joyce Palmer oversees grant-funded programs for at-risk youth, including after-school programs, in-school support programs, and the Teen Center. She has held her position for three years and spends much of her time building community coalitions to address the needs of youth. Manchester is home to six colleges and universities, but Palmer believes the YMCA can be best served by forming a deep relationship with one or two rather than a more general one with all of them.
Over the years, the YMCA has had an “off and on” relationship with Southern New Hampshire University, occasionally hosting volunteers, interns, and Federal Work-Study students. Their partnership was strengthened three years ago when the new university administration made a commitment to be more connected to the local community. Palmer believes the university sees community partnerships as “the right thing to do,” but also as a strategy to improve its visibility and recruit students from the local community.
In the first year of their partnership, Palmer proposed a number of different FWS positions in different areas of the Y. Internal communication was a challenge, and it did not work well to have multiple Y staff supervising students. In the second year, she limited the opportunities to positions in her department that she or staff she supervised could manage. This provided better communication, consistent support for the students, and a more “grounded” chance for students to learn how one Y program fits into the larger work of the organization.
Even with this improved supervision strategy, working with university students can still be a challenge. Two of the students from the past year worked out well, but the other two had issues with transportation, illness, or scheduling. The university has put stronger screening processes into place to help with these challenges, but Palmer believes that some issues are “inevitable” when working with any college or university students.
Palmer explains that her positions “are more than just a job, but some students are just looking to make money.” The most successful students see a direct connection to their field, such as Elementary Education majors who tutor youth, or Sports Management students who work with youth sports programs. These students see the benefit of working in the community. Some volunteered in high school, so they have experience and a commitment to service. “They see being in the community as part of their normal life. And they didn’t come to school to party, but to learn,” says Palmer.
Palmer plans to work with the university to market her positions to older students who might be “bored with their current work-study job and looking for real world experience.” She also thinks it will help to create a way for students to visit the Y to see the programs before the students apply for a job there.
Advice that Palmer would give other nonprofits considering hosting FWS students: “Have really clear roles. Students shouldn’t just come to the organization to hang out and find things to do. Students need good support and supervision and have the opportunity to make connections. They should go to staff meetings and trainings, or at least be invited.” Palmer explains that these things make the students feel more motivated. She also feels she needs to be patient with the students and invest a lot of time, but “it’s a good program, and in the long run it is good for us to have positive connections to the university. We want to be recognized as a good place to do internships, practica, and other experiences.”