University earns spot on community service honor roll

USC was recently named to President Obama’s 2010 Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for its students’ work in the surrounding neighborhood, but community service organizers recognize that the school still has work to do.

This is the third year in a row USC has been named to the honor roll, though it has yet to reach the highest level, the Presidential Award, or the second-highest, Honor Roll with Distinction.

Melissa Gaeke, director of USC’s Volunteer Center, said the award is great recognition of the center’s work. She noted, however, that USC’s community service program still has room to grow.

Gaeke said the Volunteer Center is hindered by a fragmented approach to community service, but it could help get more students involved if more unity existed among community service groups.

Gaeke said she plans to look at universities given Presidential or Honor Roll with Distinction Awards to see how their community service programs function.

USC earned a place on the honor roll for programs like the Joint Educational Project, which offers students some form of course credit to teach at neighborhood schools. But the rating was also based on its volunteer activities such as Troy Camp, the Alternative Break Program and Greek-affiliated service events.

The award is based on percentages, measuring how many students are involved in civic service in relation to how many are enrolled as well as the amount of funding devoted to community service, according to Kevin Days, adviser on the board of Higher Education Special Initiatives, which supports the president’s higher education community service honor roll program.

Days said that, though numbers are calculated, this is not the most important factor.

“Number of hours and programs are important, but the impact made is more important,” Days said.

The program was launched in 2006 by Learn and Serve America under the Corporation for National and Community Service. Seven hundred and thirty-six schools of higher education were named to the honor roll this year, a hundred more than in 2009.

Days said the award emphasizes an important aspect of higher education.

“So often the discussion is about tuition, ratings … beyond just contributing graduates with diplomas, the honor roll gives schools an opportunity to discuss how service is part of the solution to many of the issues we’re facing as a nation,” Days said.

Students who have participated in community service at USC said they think it is important to give back to the community.

“USC, being in its unique surroundings, reminds us that not everyone is as lucky as us,” said Tina Coles, a senior majoring in psychology. “In some ritzy areas, schools may not even have the reason to do as much community service as you do here.”