Samantha B. Bonar

Occidental College has again been named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll, this time for exemplary efforts in service to disadvantaged youth.

In 2008, nearly 900 Occidental students – almost half of the student population – contributed more than 5,800 hours of service in areas including math and reading tutoring, disaster relief, and art appreciation.

"Being recognized is tremendously rewarding for our efforts as a civically engaged institution. The recognition goes to all of the faculty, students, and community partners who participated in the ever-growing number of classes and student projects connecting with Los Angeles," 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 2008 special focus area was services to youth from disadvantaged circumstances that would help lower school dropout rates and prepare youth for college – areas in which Occidental student volunteers excel.

Occidental has been named to the Honor Roll each year since the national recognition program was launched in 2006.

"At Occidental, community outreach is tied to the curriculum," said President Robert Skotheim. "Students take skills that they learn here on campus and directly apply them to places in need within our community."

Examples of community-based learning at Occidental include:

  1. A community-based learning course, developed jointly by the mathematics departments at Occidental and nearby Franklin High School, through which students and faculty collaborate to increase the number of Franklin students passing algebra – a key to increasing high school graduation rates and college-readiness.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. A black activism and archive class that has evolved, through interactions with the Southern California Library and the 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.
  5. A program created by 2008 Strauss Fellow Karina Vanderbilt ’09 that involves Occidental students teaching about and discussing food insecurity and other social justice issues with students and teachers at neighboring schools.
  6. Through Arts for Appreciation and Achievement (AAA), Occidental students seek to instill in low-income elementary school children an appreciation and life-long affinity for the performing arts, as well as to increase their academic achievement and desire to continue their education beyond high school.

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 100 low-income first generation college-bound students each year. In 2007-2008, Occidental’s GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) partnership with the Los Angeles Unified School District served 3,800 low-income middle and high school students at four local schools. Both Upward Bound and GEAR UP utilize the services of dozens 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.