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The Scarlet & Black

Service Learning Work Studies connect College and community

The Center for Careers, Life and Service coordinates Service Learning Work Studies (SLWS) for students to get paid for community engagement. Photo by Reina Shahi

Zainab Thompson

Service Learning Work Study (SLWS) is one of the ways Grinnell College students give back to the wider community while getting paid. The program is based on the College’s belief that all students should have the ability to volunteer, offering about 6,000 hours of community service each year through SLWS.

“Whether that is working for Crisis Intervention Services and realizing that you want to go and get a masters degree in social work and work with crisis centers… or working with Blank Park Zoo and realizing you want to be a wild animal veterinarian,” said Susan Leatham Sanning, associate dean and director of service and social innovation on the insight students gain through SLWS. “I think one of the things that’s really cool is the number of students who have found their professional passion through the service and civic work they’re doing in this program.”

Typically, SLWS students will work from four to ten hours per week with their designated community partner. By paying for previously unpaid work, volunteering becomes an option for many more students.

“Volunteering is a privilege that not everybody can afford,” Sanning said. “It’s now open to anybody that can legally work on campus.”

In contrast to a normal on-campus job, SLWS is a professional and civic development program with specific learning goals.

Grinnell students in the past have accomplished a range of things through the SLWS program. “We’ve had students work on fundraising campaigns so that people can be paid a living wage and that childcare can be affordable, we’ve had students work with Blank Park Zoo and make enrichment toys for animals and work with the animal behaviorists. … It’s pretty phenomenal,” said Assistant Director of Service and Social Innovation Keira Wilson. “One of our SLWS students started the federal grant for SNAPP food benefits… now people can use their SNAP benefits at the farmer’s market, because that’s something that the Chamber of Commerce wanted to have happen and didn’t have the capacity to do without help.”

The Center for Careers, Life and Service coordinates Service Learning Work Studies (SLWS) for students to get paid for community engagement.
Photo by Reina Shahi

In terms of tips on getting a SLWS, both Sanning and Wilson recommend keeping an updated resume and tailoring the resume to every application. An applicant shouldn’t just have a single resume and a single cover letter they use for everything. An organization is more likely to look favorably at a candidate that has obviously done research and presented the relevant skills for the job. The CLS takes walk-ins during the week for those that need help with resumes and cover letters, in addition to appointments with CLS advisors.

The CLS likes to focus on the concept of SLWS as practice for post-college careers. For the CLS, a career isn’t just a job.

As Wilson explains, a job is “an intersection between your personal life, your professional life and your civic life … your professional life here is your academics, right? And there’s a personal life, hopefully, and this allows you to play with that civic life.”

Handshake applications for SLWS are sent straight to the community partners, and they pick students to be notified that they’ve been selected for an interview. SLWS is part of Grinnell’s ongoing budget, and most likely won’t be going anywhere soon.

Anyone interested in SLWS can check Handshake for available positions. Jobs may exist one semester and not the next, but if there is local organization that a student really wants to work with that isn’t currently one of Grinnell’s community partners, contact Kiera Wilson at [] and she will help you start the proposal process if it’s a viable opportunity.

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