After being named the second-best university in the North by U.S. News & World Report, Fairfield received yet another recognition from the publication.

In their 2017 Best Colleges rankings, U.S. News & World Report recognized Fairfield’s service learning programs as one of the “best ‘Academic Programs to Look for,’” according to a News@Fairfield release from Sept. 22. Ranked at No. 2, Fairfield is preceded on the list by Elon University in North Carolina and is joined by the likes of other universities, such as Brown University, Cornell University and the University of Notre Dame.The News@Fairfield reported that the acknowledgment is given to schools that “integrate community service with required student course work.”

To be considered for the national ranking, U.S. News & World Report invited the presidents, chief academic officers, deans of students and deans of admissions from more than 1,500 colleges and universities across the United States to propose up to 10 institutions that have the best service learning programs, News@Fairfield reports, with the universities who received the most mentions earning a spot on the final list.

U.S. News & World Report defines service learning as using volunteer work in the community beyond campus as “an instructional strategy and a requirement of a student’s course work. The service relates to what happens in class, and in turn, the course work plays off of the volunteering.”

While being ranked among prestigious universities nationwide is exciting to Melissa Quan, director of The Center for Faith & Public Life, she said that she hopes Fairfield’s place on the list will help the growth of the program.

“Having Fairfield’s name there demonstrates how we, as a younger institution and younger service-learning program, are working alongside these prestigious institutions to advance the field,” Quan said. “It could help us to attract faculty, staff, students and administrators who want to be a part of a university that is committed to social justice and community engagement.”

However, according to Dr. Jocelyn Boryczka, associate professor of politics, the program already presents a robust course selection to students, one that fits all interests and concentrations.

“We offer approximately 50 service learning courses in all four of the schools at Fairfield University,” she explained. “These courses range from ‘Robots’ in the Engineering program, Public Health Nursing in [School of Nursing], and Grant and Proposal Writing in the English Department to Explorations in Teaching in [Graduate School of Education and Allied Professionals], African Politics in the Politics Department and Individual Taxation — Socioeconomic Applications in [Dolan School of Business].”

In fact, Quan said that a list of service learning courses for the Spring 2017 semester will be available in mid-October, which students can find on the service learning webpage.

“Service learning courses are designated in the course list with either a ‘SerL’ — indicating that service learning is a requirement for the course — or ‘SerL Option’ — indicating that service-learning will be an option in the course,” said Quan of how to spot the courses when choosing classes.

The Spring 2017 service learning program will include courses within each of the Schools, said Quan, covering disciplines ranging from accounting to sociology.

Focusing on emphasizing both traditional coursework and community service, Boryczka offered that the joint approach upgrades the conventional learning experience.

“Service learning integrates community engagement as a text into the student’s course material, directly linking theory to practice, learning to action,” she said. “This integrated approach enhances learning and gives students ‘real world’ experience that helps them to develop their professional profile.”

Beyond creating a more well-rounded educational experience, Quan said that the service learning program is ultimately a part of Fairfield’s Jesuit identity.

Service learning is a natural extension of the long-tradition of Jesuit education and it animates the values — service, social justice, solidarity, care for the whole person — that characterize Jesuit education,” she explained. “Thinking about our context as a Catholic, Jesuit University, service-learning makes the concept of solidarity — the idea that the well-being of one person is directly connected to that of another — tangible for students.”

Senior Katie Henderson experienced the Jesuit-rooted, integrated learning approach herself, taking two service learning courses in her time at Fairfield. Her Philosophy of Education course allowed her to shadow history teachers at Bassick High School in Bridgeport, while her Explorations in Education class took her to Cesar A. Batalla School in Bridgeport to work side-by-side with the elementary school’s teachers.

In reflecting on her experiences, Henderson said that the program made her think beyond the confines of her classroom.

In each of my experiences, I was asked to take the concepts I was learning in the classroom and apply them within the context of the larger community,” she said. “Through these courses, I was also able to learn more about the special relationships that Fairfield has with various organizations outside of the University, especially with Bridgeport.”

Sophomore Alyson Derosa has yet to take a service learning course, but wants to do so in the future, sharing that she hopes the program’s national ranking will attract other students to follow suit.

“I would be interested in taking [a service learning course] in the future,” Derosa said. “I think that the national ranking of Fairfield’s service learning program will further benefit the program and allow more students to participate in service learning courses. Also, I think the ranking will attract more prospective students to the University who are interested in service learning opportunities.”

Henderson echoed her sentiments, expressing her hope for a greater awareness of the program overall.

“I’ve had a great experience with Fairfield’s service learning program and I hope that this national ranking will help raise awareness for all of the great things that our school does with the community,” she said. “I think service learning is a great way for students to find more relevance with what they are learning in class and to explore the community off campus, and I hope more people will sign up for service learning courses because of this new national attention to the program.”

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