students enter Cornell having completed some kind of community service requirement in high school, and they continue that dedication in college. Last year, seven students participated in the Iowa Campus Compact AmeriCorps Program (ICAP), where each of them committed to performing 300 hours of community service.
One student committed to service and civic engagement is Chelsea DeLarm, a sophomore from Indiana. DeLarm, who was named volunteer of the year by the Student Activities Office, lived on a Connect Floor (a floor for first-year students dedicated to a particular goal, in her case, service) last year, and spent time with her floormates building a community based around service to others. She was also involved in ICAP.
And, she said, some of her classes, particularly her education classes, focused not just on ways to get involved, but looked at problems and help find solutions.
There are, of course, opportunities for those students who can't put in 300 or more hours of service, and that's part of what Trebil's office handles. There are direct-service opportunities, yes, but the goal is to push beyond that, to find out what a student is interested in and figure out how to get that student involved.
"We want them to think about what role they play in the solution," Trebil said.
Helping students understand why service matters and how they can get involved with the world at large is part of the rationale for the civic engagement minor, said Joe Dieker, dean of the college. The larger goal is to bridge the gap between academics and students' lives: to put what they learn in line with what they do. A civic engagement minor is rare in the United States, though many other liberal arts schools do have an academic component to their service programs. Cornell's minor requires six courses—ethics, anthropology or sociology, politics, research methods or critical thinking, a course on addressing societal issues, and a course in applied civic engagement—along with at least 25 hours of service over two semesters.
The minor and indeed the idea of academic courses on service and civic engagement are relatively new, but the idea that Cornellians should serve is not new at all, the Rev. Richard Thomas, college historian and emeritus history professor, wrote in a 2000 paper.
"As far as I can determine, at least through the mid-20th century, the college never had an academic course on leadership and service," Thomas wrote. "I believe this is true for several reasons. First, that was the purpose of the entire college curriculum—something you acquired by being part of the entire enterprise, not a course to be taken and forgotten. Second, the faculty was expected to model not only the values of leadership and service but through interaction with students to help them become better practitioners of democratic leadership."
And, indeed, it sometimes seems like the entirety of a Cornell education is preparing people not just to work, but to lead and serve in their communities.
That's been the experience of trustee Bob McLennan '65.
Mary Morse '69 has worked in women's health and community organizing, and now volunteers at the Center for Conflict Resolution in Chicago. (Photo by Veronica Fremonty)
McLennan, a Chicago-area businessman, has been involved with service for years, and he credits the liberal arts education he got at Cornell as the impetus behind that. He and his wife, Becky Martin McLennan '64, are founding members of an international organization called L3, which stands for Life, Leadership, and Legacy. The goal of the organization is to bring together people who want to have an impact on the world and help them find ways to make a difference.
McLennan, who decided at age 50 to give half his time away, also spent 19 years on the board of Advocate Healthcare, and served as a village trustee in Glenview, Ill. He was asked to be a trustee because of his background in real estate development, he said, and he wanted to give back to the place where he and Becky raised their family.
It was his liberal arts education that opened his mind to the different possibilities for service, he said. "When you're aware of the world around you," he said "there will be things that tug at you. You think, 'I've got something, maybe I could contribute.'"
From a young age, Mary Morse '69 had the sense that she had a responsibility to give back. Her father was a professor and consumer advocate, and her mother was a county commissioner. While at Cornell, she was part of a group that tutored students in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It was a turbulent time, she said, with the Vietnam War and the civil rights