Alvernia Magazine Winter/Spring 2014
Alvernia University Magazine Winter Spring 2014
Continued on page 61 50 Alvernia University Magazine This spread and previous spread: Theo Anderson na Ruiz and Judith Warchal know each other so well the pair can usually finish each other’s sentences. Working closely together for 20 years, the two academics think alike, talk alike and sometimes even dress alike. They also share an unusual passion — for service learning — that has shaped their relationship and their work to understand its impact on Alvernia students and graduates. The duo conducted their first survey regarding the effects of service learning on employment choices and community engagement among Alvernia graduates in 2004. Results were illuminating, but the pair of psychology professors was surprised only by the modesty of the respondents. Some Alvernia graduates “didn’t think that what they did was community service,” says Warchal, a professor of psychology and counseling, and a licensed psychologist. “They considered it natural to help their school or church because their school or church helped them.” While the number of respondents to that first survey was also modest — just 124 graduates — an impressive 72 percent of them were engaged in volunteering. Seven years later, Ruiz and Warchal expanded their alumni survey. This time they asked more questions on a wider range of topics about types of community service, job satisfaction and voter registration. The 2011 survey received more than 1,000 responses — almost 10 times as many as the 2004 survey. Seven years after the original research, nearly 67 percent of graduates said they were involved in volunteering. A separate survey, A conducted in summer 2013 by the Alvernia Alumni Association, had more good news. This one showed continued progress with 76 percent of alumni remaining actively involved in community service or volunteerism after graduating. When compared to national data, Alvernia graduates are exceptional; according to a 2012 federal survey, on average 42 percent of college graduates age 25 or older volunteer in the community. Warchal and Ruiz attribute Alvernia’s stellar profile to the university’s integrated approach to experientialbased classes that include service learning. “For many years, college graduates began volunteering in their 30s and 40s, when they felt settled enough to serve their community,” says Ruiz. “Now, thanks to a greater variety of servicelearning opportunities, they’re volunteering earlier, sometimes right after graduation. It’s clear that service-learning participants become leaders. They create projects. They take charge when they see the need.” In addition to studying its impact on volunteerism among graduates, Ruiz and Warchal teach the practice of developing life skills while developing communities. They supervise a new website devoted to psychology and ethics. And they present papers at service-learning conferences around the world, where they’re highly regarded as a scholarly, personable tag team. Together, Warchal and Ruiz have helped make Alvernia a significant player in a significant movement. According to the National ServiceLearning Clearinghouse, at least a quarter of American institutions of higher learning have educational exchanges with community agencies. Off-campus organizations — AmeriCorps, Learn and Serve America, United We Serve — promote systematic, reflective “learning by doing” as a superior way of solving all kinds of problems and dealing with all kinds of people. It’s an approach that has helped earn national recognition for Alvernia, including the prestigious The impact of service learning extends far beyond campus for Alvernia graduates. Above, Alyssa Wagner ’14 tutors a young Reading, Pa., student as part of a community service program.