Occidental Receives President's Honor Roll Award for Service

Occidental College has been named to the President's Higher Education and Community Service Honor Roll with distinction for exemplary service efforts for the fifth consecutive year. Selection to the Honor Roll is recognition from the highest levels of the federal government of the College's commitment to service and civic engagement on its campus and in the nation. 

In 2009, nearly 1,088 Occidental students-more than half of the student population-contributed more than 77,825 hours of service in areas including math and reading tutoring, disaster relief, and art appreciation.

"I am reminded, once again, of all the great ways in which Occidental is engaged with the various communities in Los Angeles for the enhancement of our students' education, and in reciprocity with our community partners," said Maria Avila, director of Occidental's Center for Community Based Learning.

Each year, the Corporation for National and Community Service recognizes general community service work as well as service in a designated special focus area. The 2009 special focus area was service projects that support the high school graduation and college readiness of disadvantaged youth.

"At Occidental, community outreach is tied to the curriculum," said President Jonathan Veitch. "Students take skills that they learn here on campus and directly apply them to places in need within our community. We want community engagement to be the reason why someone would choose Occidental rather than another liberal arts college."

Examples of community-based learning at Occidental include:

 A community-based learning course, developed jointly by the mathematics departments at Occidental and nearby Franklin High School, in which students and faculty at both institutions work together to increase the number of Franklin students passing algebra-a key to increasing graduation rates and college readiness.

 A disaster politics class that takes students to New Orleans during winter break, where they directly experience post-Katrina issues of race, economics, and politics.

 An energy conversion and resources class that engages students with community organizations interested in efficient uses of energy. At the end of the semester students present their recommendations to their community partners for implementation.

 A black activism and archive class that has evolved through interactions with two community partners (Southern California Library and Los Angeles Community Action Network), into a community and culture class. The culmination of the class is a "reverse tour," with about 20 community organizations and schools participating in workshops on how to access college resources.

 The Asian American Tutorial Project (AATP). A joint project with UCLA and USC, that works with Castelar Street Elementary School in Los Angeles' Chinatown to tutor immigrant children.

 Through Arts for Appreciation and Achievement (AAA), Occidental students seek to instill in low-income elementary school children an appreciation and lifelong affinity for the performing arts, as well as to increase their academic achievement and desire to continue their education beyond high school.

 Encouraging Distribution to End Need (EDEN) is a program that involves Occidental students traveling to a nearby church and cooking and serving meals to the homeless and food insecure in the Eagle Rock community.

Last year Occidental helped Academia Avance Charter School establish a local chapter of the Young People's Project (YPP), a national peer-mentoring program. Occidental students helped train high school students to become math literacy workers, who in turn used games to engage local K-12 students in mathematics.

Improving access to college has long been a focus of Occidental's outreach efforts. The College's Upward Bound program is one of California's largest and most successful programs; it serves more than 200 low-income first generation college-bound students each year. Last year, four Occidental students, along with other tutors and mentors, worked with 114 students enrolled in the Upward Bound program. Eighty-three percent of these students finished the program, of which 100% graduated from high-school and 90% enrolled in college. In 2008-2009, Occidental's GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) partnership with the Los Angeles Unified School District served more than 4,000 low-income middle and high school students from three local schools. GEAR UP also utilizes the services of Occidental students.

The President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll is a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency that improves lives, strengthens communities and fosters civic engagement through service and volunteering. The Corporation administers Senior Corps, AmeriCorps and Learn and Serve America, a program that supports service-learning in schools, institutions of higher education and community-based organizations. For more information, visit www.nationalservice.gov.