The Corporation for National and Community Service announced that St. Mary’s University has been named to the 2009 President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll, the highest federal recognition a college or university can receive for its commitment to volunteering, service-learning and civic engagement.
President Barack Obama has made service a central cause of his administration, and through his “United We Serve” initiative he is calling on all Americans to make service part of their daily lives. The President places a high priority on supporting and developing the role of higher institutions, and their students, staff, and faculty, in addressing the nation’s most pressing social needs.
“Service-learning is embedded into the fabric and culture of St. Mary’s University,” said Charles L. Cotrell, Ph.D., president of St. Mary’s University. “The faculty, staff and the Marianist community provide our students with the life lessons and experiences that will give them the foundation they need to become engaged citizens and community stewards of the world.”
St. Mary’s has been named to the Honor Roll every year since its inception in 2006 for consistent dedication to its community service and civic engagement mission. In the 2008-2009 academic year, St. Mary’s students engaged in more than 144,000 hours of community service.
Examples of St. Mary’s service learning projects include the University’s “Continuing the Heritage” day of service, which is held once a semester; students go out into the neighborhoods surrounding St. Mary’s campus, and all around San Antonio, to clean up graffiti, paint houses and plant community gardens. Most recently in January 2010, 542 people working at 31 different sites around San Antonio logging 2,660 volunteer hours in one day.
During tax season, students, faculty and staff from the Bill Greehey School of Business and the School of Law participate in St. Mary’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. It provides free tax preparation services to citizens in lower income tax brackets helping them receive all the income tax credits to which they are entitled. Last year, St. Mary’s VITA program resulted in $762,000 in refunds for its clients.
The service work of St. Mary’s students is not just restricted to San Antonio. Through spring and summer break immersion trips, students have not only done volunteer work in the border towns between Texas and Mexico, but have also travelled to New Orleans to assist with the city’s rebuilding efforts. Immersion trips have also taken students abroad to developing countries, including Peru, Bolivia and Puerto Rico, exposing students to the real-life implementation of the Marianist way of life.
Through the implementation of service learning into the St. Mary’s curriculum, students also have the opportunity to give back to the community while also completing their degree programs. The Family Life Center provides valuable counseling services to the community. Under the supervision of faculty from the Department of Counseling and Human Services, graduate students work as clinicians-in-training providing the highest quality of counseling services to clients. The Family Life Center also offers counseling services to military service members and their families through the TRIAD grant.
The School of Law’s Center for Legal and Social Justice provides a supportive learning environment for law students who, under the supervision of a faculty member, are the attorney of record for indigent clients not adequately served by other providers. In addition to the Center’s work, St. Mary’s law students are also involved in a number of pro bono and community service programs throughout the year, such as the Wills Clinic, the People’s Law School, Ask-a-Lawyer and the Restorative Justice Initiative. For these works, St. Mary’s School of Law received the 2009 Law School Commitment to Service Award from the Texas Access to Justice Commission.
St. Mary’s students also conduct a number of outreach projects to the area’s elementary, middle and high school students. Every semester since 2003, students from the School of Engineering, Science and Technology have invited hundreds to St. Mary’s campus for the “Fiesta of Physics” – an interactive learning event that gets elementary school students interested and excited about science.
“Congratulations to St. Mary’s University and its students for their dedication to service and commitment to improving the world in which they live,” said Patrick Corvington, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service. “Our nation’s students are a critical part of the equation and vital to our efforts to tackle the most persistent challenges we face. They have achieved impactful results and demonstrated the value of putting knowledge into practice to help renew America through service.”
Honorees are chosen based on a series of selection factors including the scope and innovation of service projects, percentage of student participation in service activities, incentives for service, and the extent to which the school offers academic service-learning courses. At St. Mary’s, more than 70 percent of students participate in community service. The Service Learning Center organizes, coordinates and tracks the various student community service projects. Accordingly, the Center was named the “2009 Partner of the Year” by Communities in Schools (CIS), a San Antonio outreach organization.