Feinstein Institute for Public Service and a liberal arts major and minor in Public and Community Studies

March 23, 2015

A number of colleges and universities offer courses not only that employ community service as a method of instruction and research, but that teach about community service as a subject of study in itself.

When it was founded four years ago, the Feinstein Institute for Public Service at Providence College in Rhode Island became the first university program in the nation to offer a liberal arts major and minor in Public and Community Studies.

The major offers students the opportunity to consider in-depth the religious, democratic, and ethical ideals that underlie community service. Interdisciplinary in nature, the major is built around service-learning coursework and community engagement.

Certain basic conceptual themes form the skeleton for students learning: community, service, compassion, public ethics, social justice, and social change. Students encounter these themes in readings, explore them in the community, and dig further through reflection in coursework. A progression of pedagogical methods over the four years of study brings students from the initial introduction of key concepts, to continual re-evaluation of those concepts, leading to new questions and deeper insight over time. Like all undergraduates studying a liberal arts major, students are expected to acquire certain skills through their course of study: skills like critical thinking and problem solving, which lend themselves to service-learning. At the same time, the community service major carries with it certain skills that are specific to the course of study: skills like community building, community action research, and leadership.

By the time students earn their degree in Public and Community Studies, they have a thorough, first-hand understanding of the ways in which community service works, and does not work. They have a grasp of the intricacies of terms like citizenship, ethics, and democracy. Most of all, students learning is tied to their action in the community. They understand change, and how to be agents of change; they understand leadership, and how to be leaders; they understand community, and how to interact with communities.

This sort of study not only provides better understanding of community and public studies, but it lends legitimacy to the concepts that underlie community engagement as a whole. When service is only something we do, it is often seen as a simple idea that can be taken at face value. When service is something we study, it is seen for what it really is: a complex concept whose implications for social change and democratic societies are only beginning to be understood.

See Capstone Seminar description

Public and Community Service Studies web page

Feinstein Institute for Public Service web site

From Service Matters 1998: Engaging Higher Education In the Renewal of America s Communities and American Democracy

Providence College - RI, Rhode Island
Contact Person: For more information: http://www.providence.edu/psp/
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