JEP is often described as a “full-service” service-learning program.  We regularly work in parallel with courses, designing service-learning assignments and curricula to complement USC coursework, monitoring students’ service in the community, grading students’ reflective assignments, and providing evaluations of student performance to faculty at the end of the semester.  USC faculty can be involved at any step in the process or allow JEP to manage all aspects of students’ service-learning assignments.

Many different assignment options are available to students through JEP.  Most of our assignments are at K-12 schools, which can accommodate large numbers of volunteers.  A smaller number of students are placed with one of our non-profit partners through our Community-Based Organizations Program.  For detailed information about JEP’s assignment options, please click here.

Below is a general overview the most common service-learning assignments available through JEP.  JEP staff work with faculty to determine which assignment type(s) will be most effective for their particular courses.

    • Mentor-Tutors:

    Mentor-tutors provide academic assistance and friendship to one or two students over the course of the semester. These types of assignments typically provide students with insight into the perspectives and experiences of the child(ren) with whom they are working. Mentor-tutor assignments are most effective when the learning objective is for students to develop a deeper understanding of the lived experience of a particular phenomenon (e.g., immigration, child development, social inequality). Most mentor-tutors are placed from social science courses.

    • Teaching Assistants:

    Teaching Assistants (T.A.s) help children with various tasks in small-group activities. This type of assignment is the least clearly defined from the outset, as teachers make requests for T.A.s in order to maximize flexibility. Thus, these assignments work best when a wide variety of experiences could contribute to the learning objectives for the course. T.A.s are more likely than others to have the opportunity to observe groups of children (helpful for observing the rules of small group behavior, social psychology, etc.).

    • “Mini-Courses”:

    Mini-courses involve teams of 3-5 students developing and teaching a series of lessons in K-12 classrooms, inspired by material from their JEP-affiliated USC course. Students gain a more thorough understanding of Classical Mythology, Principles of Nutrition, Earthquakes, and the Origins of Humanity (for example) when they learn how to convey complex material in a way that children can understand. These assignments are most appropriate for courses in the natural sciences and the humanities, or courses in which learning through service comes primarily through the act of teaching, rather than other types of service to community organizations.

  • JEP partners with more than 50 non-profit organizations, legal clinics and health centers to provide a wide range of service-learning opportunities for students.  Our CBO assignments offer a unique opportunity to learn about particular social issues addressed by an organization, such as homelessness, literacy or immigration; as such, these assignments are most appropriate for courses that explore the same issues from an academic perspective.  Please note that the number of CBO assignments is limited due to the constraints of small organizations to develop service-learning assignments and supervise student volunteers.

    • “Special Assignments”:

    Special Assignments fill individual requests from schools or community-based organizations for student-volunteers with particular skills (e.g., foreign language proficiency, dramatic or artistic skills, athletic ability).

    • Customized Projects:

    Many faculty want to involve their students in the community in ways that closely correspond to the material they are covering in class. We are happy to help you develop a service-learning project for your course and, if desired, provide assistance with administering the project (e.g., placing and monitoring students, developing curricula and/or grading assistance). Please note that custom service-learning assignments take time to set up so please contact us at least one month in advance of the semester with your request.

Partnering with JEP

If you are interested in working with JEP or would like to know more about service-learning pedagogy, please call or email Susan Harris, JEP’s Executive Director for Research and Academic Affairs or Samantha Bernstein-Sierra, Assistant Director for Reseach and Academic Affairs. They will be happy to talk with you about the options available to your students and help you develop the service-learning objectives for your course.

Susan Harris, PhD:

Executive Director



Samantha Bernstein-Sierra, JD, PhD: 

Assistant Director, Reseach and Academic Affairs



Additional Resources

  • “Service-learning is a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic  responsibility, and strengthen communities.”

    Learn & Serve America
    National Service-Learning Clearinghouse

    There are countless definitions of service-learning, some so broad as to include any service that takes place off campus, others so narrow that they exclude many appropriate pedagogical models.  At the core of service-learning is the principle that community service can be connected to classroom learning in such a way that service is more informed by theoretical and conceptual understanding and learning is more informed by concrete experience.  Reflection – the practice of thinking critically about experience and relating it to other ideas and experiences – is critical to the learning process.  Here “learning” includes the structured acquisition of disciplinary knowledge and community awareness, as well as the development of “soft skills” associated with learning across the curriculum.

    Characteristics of service-learning:

    • Service projects are part of a course; students get academic credit for their service work in the community

    • Service projects must relate in some way to the content of the course

    • Service projects should be meaningful to the student and beneficial to the organization

    • Service projects are usually limited in scope (e.g., 2-3 hours per week or 15-20 hours per semester)

    What service-learning is not:

    • A traditional internship: Service-learning differs internships, which typically require students to spend more time on site (e.g., 10 hours per week or even full-time). Internships may or may not have a connection to an academic course, while service-learning is fundamentally connected to the learning objectives of a course.

    • Regular volunteerism: Service-learning students differ from other volunteers in that the latter group has no educational requirements connected to the community service work.

    Models of Service-Learning  

    Approaches to service-learning generally fit into one of the following six different categories (adapted from Cone in Heffernan 2001):

    Discipline-Based Service-Learning:
    In this model, students are expected to have a presence in the community throughout the semester and regularly reflect on their experiences using course content as the foundation for understanding and analysis. In addition to this on-going reflection, students may produce a final paper or report that integrates their academic and experiential learning over the course of the semester. This is the approach we use most often at JEP; typically our staff work with faculty to identify appropriate service-learning projects and to develop writing assignments and other reflective exercises to help students connect in- and out-of-classroom experiences.

    Community-Based Action Research:
    Especially well-suited for methodology courses or independent study, this approach involves working closely with students to teach research methodologies that advocate for community residents and address issues of concern to the community.

    Project-Based Service-Learning:
    These are courses in which students, typically working in teams, engage with the community as “consultants” working for a “client.” Students work with community members to identify a particular need or problem and propose solutions to that problem. This model may offer only limited contact with community partners and presumes that students have some specialized knowledge upon which to draw to develop plans for solving the problem.

    Capstone Courses:
    These courses are designed for majors and minors in a given discipline and are limited primarily to juniors and seniors. They ask students to draw upon their knowledge of the discipline and to apply it within some relevant community service work. As they near the end of their college careers, capstone courses can help students make professional contacts and gather practical experience while providing an opportunity to synthesize their academic experience.

    Service Internships:
    Like traditional internships, these courses typically require a significant time commitment, with students providing 10-20 hours of community service per week. Unlike traditional internships however, these courses offer interns the opportunity for regular contact with faculty and other students to discuss their experiences within an academic context. JEP offers a paid Public Service Internship Program that allows students to build on service-learning experiences in a summer internship at one of our non-profit partners.

    “Pure” Service-Learning:
    These are courses that require service-learning and make community service — its history, practices, policies, relationship to charity, philanthropy, activism and social justice, etc. — the subject of academic study.

  • The service-learning movement grew out of the concerns and activism of the 1960’s and early ’70’s but with some roots that ran deeper into the earliest days of the twentieth century. Educators such as John Dewey and Paulo Freire provided the philosophical underpinnings for educational reform while social activists like Martin Luther King and Cesar Chavez provided the inspiration for citizen action.

    The pedagogy of service-learning was given a boost in the ’70’s and early ’80’s through the work of cognitive psychologists such as Lev Vygotsky and Jerome Bruner. These psychologists pointed out that learning involves the creation of meaning and is highly individualized. Service-learning educators have been able to point out the validity of using out-of-classroom experiences in helping students make meaning of rather abstract theories and concepts.

    A conference of service-learning “pioneers” held in 1995 determined that there were two primary strands that came together in service-learning pedagogy and practice (Service-Learning: A Movement’s Pioneers Reflect on its Origins, Practice, and the Future, Stanton, Giles, & Cruz: 1995). A number of proponents saw the practice as a way of addressing issues of social and economic justice. Others saw the practice as a way of transforming our educational institutions. It is safe to say that most of the pioneers were interested in both strands and their common thread: the strengthening of democracy.

    Since the turn of the century, service-learning centers have become ubiquitous on college campuses and the pedagogy is used widely in all academic disciplines.  “Engagement” has emerged as a field of study, as well, with an increasing number of undergraduate- and graduate-level programs offering coursework that explores the history, theory and practice of civic and community engagement.

    Feel free to contact us if you have any questions about how to integrate service-learning into your course.

  • Perhaps the single most important part of a well-designed service-learning course is the course syllabus.  An effective syllabus illustrates and explains the connection between course readings, lectures and community service work and offers clear information to students about their service and learning obligations so they can make an informed decision about enrolling in the course and planning their schedule.

    Despite the rapid growth of service-learning courses over the past few years, we see few really stellar examples of course syllabi. Typically, the service-learning component is described at the end of a “regular” syllabus with far too little explanation of how the service is connected to the course and the details of student engagement. We believe that a good service-learning syllabus should contain the following elements:

    • A clear connection between the academic content and the service component
    • Stated learning objectives
    • A description of the service requirement:  is service optional or mandatory, how many hours a week are required, what is the general nature of the work, the anticipated timeline, etc.
    • A description of the placements: where, how, when
    • Clear information about requirements for the reflective process: how often, what formats (e.g., oral or written), the feedback process.
    • A concise description of the evaluation structure: what will be evaluated (the service and/or the learning?) and what percentage of the overall grade will draw from the service-learning component.
  • The Learning in Service-Learning

    The Joint Educational Project works with faculty to help students make direct connections between their experiences in the community and in class. While students have long reported that participating in JEP has benefitted them personally and socially, as a result of our collaborative efforts with faculty we find that students are reaping more of the academic benefits that are possible through service-learning. There are a few ways in which we have tried to do this through our work at JEP:

    Developing “Reflective Questions” and Other Academic Assignments: Reflective Questions are essay prompts that ask students to consider their experiences each week from a particular point of view.  A prompt might ask students to consider the ethics of service, to research community demographics or to demonstrate their comprehension of course material by applying relevant theories and concepts. While this is not the only approach to “reflection” — the process by which students relate their in- and out- of-class experiences — Eyler, Giles & Schmiede (1996) argue that reflection is most effective when it meets the following criteria:

    Continuous: Students learn more from their experiences when they are asked to continually reflect on them throughout the semester, rather than only once in an end-of-semester paper. Providing students with regular feedback is an important part of this process, as well.

    ConnectedAssignments are more effective when they are structured with specific learning objectives in mind, rather than vague and open-ended (e.g., asking “What has your experience with X taught you about Y?” is more fruitful than asking “What have you learned from your experience?”).

    ChallengingService-learning has a reputation among some for being “touchy-feely” and non-academic. But to think about personal experiences within the context of a discipline’s theoretical and conceptual tools requires considerable critical thinking skills. Indeed, this is arguably one of the most important – and challenging – objectives of higher education, and service-learning is uniquely suited to this objective.

    Contextualized: Service-learning assignments — like other assignments for the course — take into consideration the skill level of students and the overall goals of the course.

    Adapting Existing Service-learning Assignments: Tailoring service-learning assignments moves us closer to our goal of making students’ experiences in the community as informative as the lectures and readings assigned for the course. We have placed students with pre-school-aged children, in a group context or with a particular population in order to provide a context for helping students learn more about early childhood development, the environment, or the homeless (for example). When you make plans to offer credit for JEP, consider what kind of placement(s) would benefit your students most. We will do our best to accommodate your special requests within the constraints placed on us by limits in students’ schedules, available placements and other resources.

  • Letter from Susan Harris, Executive Director of JEP:

    As a board member of the International Association for Research on Service-Learning and Community Engagement (IARSLCE) I want to make you aware of a great opportunity. IARSLCE connects scholars around the world to advance knowledge on service-learning and community engagement. My involvement with IARSLCE has been invaluable to me both professionally and personally, and I am reaching out to encourage you to become a member and to get involved with the association.

    For twenty years, IARSLCE has been known to thousands of scholars as a network that has helped to consolidate the value of service-learning and community engagement for our understanding of the world and communities and has helped to launch the careers of many brilliant publicly engaged researchers. IARSLCE has grown to be an important network that not only builds the capacity of SLCE scholars to create knowledge, but impact policy as well.

    IARSLCE is the only international organization whose expressed primary purpose is to cultivate, encourage, and present research across all engagement forms and educational levels; and it fulfills its mission by embracing all research frameworks (e.g., positivist, interpretive, participatory, critical, etc.), methods (e.g., qualitative, quantitative, mixed, etc.), and approaches (e.g., basic, applied, action, engaged, evaluation, etc.). The Association promotes high quality transdisciplinary research across a wide range of approaches and forms and builds the capacity of scholars, practitioners, and community partners to engage in such research.

    IARSLCE members:

    • Are part of a diverse network of scholars from across the globe and across the disciplines; both demographic and intellectual diversity are key values of IARSLCE

    • Are connected to Publicly Engaged Scholarship leaders that continuously strive to keep the field current, such as the agenda-setting work that will have an impact on the next 10 years and beyond;

    • Have access to IARSLCE publications such as IJRSLCE, the IARSLCE blog, and the IARSLCE newsletter;

    • Have opportunities to network and build with other scholars in special interest group circles and on IARSCLE committees;

    • Are eligible to serve on the IARSLCE Board of Directors;

    • Can stand for nomination to Awards and recognitions;

    • Are invited to IARSLCE-developed webinars and other professional development opportunities;

    • Receive discounted IARSLCE conference registration.

    Please click here to join IARSLCE today.
    Note: Use your email address as the username.