University of South Carolina

USC has no shortage of ways to give back

By Liz McCarthy,, 803-777-2848

Whether it’s conducting research in the community, incorporating service activities into the curriculum of courses or getting involved outside the classroom, USC has a variety of ways that faculty and staff can integrate community service into learning at Carolina.


Les Sternberg, who serves as director of the Coordinating Office for Community Engagement and Service, is heading a charge to ascertain the scope of the university’s impact on the community.

“Many of our faculty members are involved in community-engaged scholarship initiatives and I know that there are many others who want to be,” Sternberg says.

He hopes that his office will be able to assist faculty in these efforts, and to provide a central communications portal for community agencies, organizations and faculty to engage in mutually beneficial research.  Faculty members interested in this type of research should contact his office.

“Higher education has been moving in that direction and major research institutions such as ours are no exception. We have been involved in and will be increasing our efforts in making a difference in the lives of children, youth, adults, families and the various community entities that impact their lives,” he says. 


Faculty members can also bring community service into the classroom with activities that complement the curriculum, and the Office of Student Engagement knows how to get faculty members started. USC now offers more than 41 service-learning courses that emphasize hands-on tasks that address community needs as avenues for educational growth.

“Service-learning allows students to apply their learning in a hands-on way but also to address a community need, so students really see the benefits of that applied, active learning,” says Jimmie Gahagan, director for student engagement.

These classes cross disciplines, from an Honors College course about homelessness in Columbia to a journalism course on public relations campaigns. Courses can have one aspect of community outreach or an entire course can be based in the community. Integration between courses and beyond the classroom experiences is the goal of USC Connect, USC’s major initiative to enhance student learning.  

Gahagan’s office has the tools to develop such courses by partnering with the Center for Teaching Excellence and working one-on-one with faculty members. The office can also help find community partners, says Dottie Weigel, assistant director for student engagement and service-learning.

“What we would love is for faculty members who have closed out the idea because they don’t imagine it could happen in their discipline to think that it really could because we have such diversity among our courses and there is such support to enable faculty to try this,” Weigel says.

Volunteer Options

For the more traditional type of community service, faculty and staff can turn to Community Service Programs to find out how, when and where to get involved outside of classroom hours.

This month kicks off Carolina Cares, a university-wide holiday drive. Participants can “adopt” a family for Thanksgiving or write letters to members of the U.S. military during the holiday season.

The office also coordinates alternative break service trips, Service Saturdays and the MLK Days of Service, the largest campus-wide community service event at Carolina.

Faculty can also participate as an alternative break adviser. The Alternative Breaks program consists of substance-free, community service-learning trips during the university's fall, winter and spring breaks. Participants travel locally and nationally in teams to different cities, engage in active service, and have the opportunity to gain new perspectives on social issues while meeting community needs.

Trip topics range from HIV or AIDS awareness, hunger and homelessness to disaster relief and sustainability efforts. This means faculty can find a trip that matches their research or teaching interests and also have an opportunity to interact with students outside of the classroom setting, said Theresa Harrison, community service program coordinator.

“All of it really goes back into us continuing and advancing this idea that community engagement is a hallmark for our university and it’s woven into the fabric of our mission,” Gahagan says. “It’s extremely important in light of our emphasis on leadership, and it really sets us apart.” 

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Posted: 11/06/12 @ 12:00 AM | Updated: 11/07/12 @ 4:07 PM | Permalink