The Benefits of Service Learning in a Down-Turned Economy

Theodore Peters
Mary Ann McHugh, Merrimack College
Patricia Sendall, Merrimack College

Abstract/ Summary

With businesses struggling for resources during the recent economic downturn, traditional business student internships were becoming more difficult to develop. Rather than relying solely on these internships and then losing “real world” opportunities for their students, one business school opted to extend its experiential learning opportunities by incorporating service learning through community small business, healthcare, education, and non-profit organizations. These alternative sites provided students with specific management projects whereby the students could develop and apply their management skills while gaining first-hand experience functioning within a specific organizational culture. Working through the on-campus service learning center, which provided project development, transportation, assessment, and other logistical support, business students enrolled in management information systems or human resource management courses were able to participate on a specific on-site project. Most students reported favorable experiences with these non-traditional learning sites. Student projects provided management career choice information, plus the practical application of their skills in the on-site culture. They also benefited from their classroom interactions in sharing their problems, insights, and outcomes among their classmates. Students also indicated increased selfconfidence, more comfortable entering the work world, and more awareness of the interconnectedness of the business and the community service world. Through service learning, students gained experience in leadership, scholarship, and citizenship to become better members of their communities. Thus, service learning provided experiential learning sites and projects for business students in lieu of diminished opportunities for business internships during an economic downturn.