CSL: Harness Student Power

Do you have projects in the back of your mind, or on the edge of your desk, that you can’t ever get to because you just don’t have enough hours in a day? Or maybe you simply don’t have the skills in the areas of Human Resources, Public Relations or Community Development Research? Read on…

The term “Community Service Learning” (CSL) may not ring a bell for most people, but it represents an exceptional opportunity for non-profit organizations and university students in Calgary.

Here’s how CSL works:

  1. Volunteer Calgary connects with instructors who have designed courses where the students work to meet specific needs in member organizations, as part of their course work.  Here is a list of current courses.
  2. VC then calls for proposals from our members so we can match member projects and students.

To give you a better picture of how CSL program works, here are some examples of recent projects.

CASE 1: The Alpha House Project

Organization: Alpha House
Their Mission: To provide a safe and caring environment for individuals whose lives are affected by alcohol and other drug dependencies
Their Need: Evaluation strategy for housing programs
The Course: University of Calgary students from DEST  591 – Critical Perspectives on Development Practice & Research
The Project: Students functioned as consultants and developed the survey tools, administered them in challenging circumstances and then analyzed the findings and produced a report for Alpha House
Duration: 10 weeks

Outcomes: A Win-Win Situation!
The students learned from applying their skills and knowledge in a real world setting.
Alpha House gained new insights into their programming and their clients.

 Overall the experience working with the CSL program was excellent. This was a great opportunity for us, as a program, to obtain the outcomes that we were in need of whilst concurrently developing a great working relationship with the students and the campus community. The students that took part in the project were motivated, creative and open-minded throughout the entire project. They completed the surveys and the tabulation of the results methodically and thoroughly. The information gathered was valuable and the students went above and beyond their roles in order to work with the clients’ in a way which encouraged openness and honesty. The support of the CSL program in this provided an excellent avenue for connecting the community and the university…The Alpha House Housing program will assuredly look to working with the CSL program in the future. ~ The Alpha House

 CASE 2: Clever Communications

COMM 4841 is a Strategic Communication Planning course where very experienced students act as professional consultants to assess an organizations’ communications needs and then build a strategic communication plan, specifically tailored to those needs.

Teams of students work with VC members to help your non-profit get a handle on strategic communications needs. Students take a deep look at your organization, they undertake a situational analysis, conduct research, look at target audiences, draft specific messaging, suggest tactics to reach your audiences and also provide evaluation plans. The instructor puts herself on every student team to maintain exceptionally high standards and the results are fantastic!

“The students were able to identify that our original plan was not feasible until we did more effective work on establishing our organizational identity. This insight allowed us to direct our resources on efforts that will provide more sustainable results for the organization.”

 “The Public Relations students from MRU were enthusiastic, reliable and professional. They brought skills and insights to our communication planning that we do not have in-house and would costs thousands if we hired a consultant.”

 “The research done and the campaign strategy developed are of equal importance to our organization. The research gave us insight into our donor demographic, and the strategy will serve to inform our next steps.”

 CASE 3: Help for Human Resources

Staff and volunteer training and orientation are time consuming and need to be effective. Many nonprofits would like to develop more effective training or create new modules. In the HRES 3277 course, experienced business students are keen to develop training and orientation modules with you. They use your expertise to assess need and then call upon their training in analysis, assessment, learning principles, instructional design and evaluation to create training or orientation modules tailored to your needs.

 “We are planning to implement the activities suggested into our formal orientation. The electronic orientation we are going to develop and role out. One of the students is offering to formally volunteer to help us finish this project and get it rolled out.”

 “Wonderful experience, the end product was well worth the time invested. Which is a welcome change from the regular experience of working with students. Usually, the student benefits more than the organization, but in this case I feel our organization benefited more from the work completed by the students than the benefit they may have received.”

 The Verdict

CSL is an opportunity to connect with Calgary campuses and we know non-profits want to improve the quality and depth of student engagement, access skill-based volunteers, build relationships with local post-secondary institution and enjoy mutual benefits. Time, knowledge, networks and coordination are barriers. Volunteer Calgary assists by identifying, coordinating and supporting that work through the CSL program.

 “I would recommend this program to any organization wishing to surpass status quo and adopt change as a core strategy for sustainability. These students can connect you with the essence of change in our communities today.”

 Connect with Ralamy Kneeshaw at rkneeshaw@volunteercalgary.ab.ca or 403-231-1429 if you are interested in the CSL Program.

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About Propellus

Propellus is a non-profit organization that has been empowering organizations since 1955. Through a dynamic range of consulting, training and member services, it helps organizations envision and realize new paths, practices and possibilities. Propellus guides, mentors and educates clients, arming them with tools and resources to help boost organizational effectiveness. Propellus strengthens organizations; in doing so, it leads the way toward building thriving communities.
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