Essential Practices for Service-Learning/Community Engagement Staff to Create Quality Service-Learning Experiences while Mitigating Risk

Whether you are a new service-learning/community engagement staff member or a veteran practitioner, there are practices that when implemented support both the mitigation of risk and creation of positive service-learning experiences. You play an integral role in the process. 

  1. Support Proper Documentation: To ensure a meaningful experience for everyone involved with service-learning activities, it is important for CCE staff to become familiar and knowledgeable with their respective campuses and CSU Service-Learning policies and systems. Become familiar with your authorized signers on your campus, your campus’s retention policies, and all risk mitigation forms that learning sites, faculty, students, and staff must complete when participating in service-learning activities. Also, identify and become familiar with other key staff on your campus that are also responsible for components of the risk mitigation process, such as your campus risk manager and contract officers. This will allow you to establish a support team so that you can easily connect with them when additional assistance is needed. Lastly, make sure that those you work closely with are familiar with your systems and procedures, and you with theirs, to ensure that everyone is upholding university and systemwide guidelines and policies. Having systems in place that are well-documented will be beneficial to help you properly address any issues that may arise within your program.
  2. Build Relationships and Communication: It is important to develop relationships not only with your community partners, but also with on-campus colleagues, this includes, but is not limited to, risk managers, contract officers, faculty and staff, and student participants. You can connect with those you have built relationships with to properly address issues when they arise and/or clarification is needed. Building strong relationships with the aforementioned will not only create strong bonds throughout the partnership but will also likely lead to a better learning experience for all.
  3. Facilitate Learning Site Assessment: Site assessment is crucial when developing your partnerships. It helps the authorized campus representative to identify any risk concerns that may be associated with the site and safety requirements to cover during student orientation. It allows all parties to better understand what is expected from each other and iron out all the details before any learning activities take place. This also gives ample time for the university and the community partner to conduct a site visit if needed or address other concerns that may arise. See learning site assessment section for more information.
  4. Maintain University-Agency Agreements: Mitigating risk for all parties involved with service learning is essential. After an authorized campus representative has completed an initial assessment of a learning site, it is important that the University-Agency Agreement is formalized and executed. If you are not sure if the agreement you are using is an agreement that adheres to CSU policy, make sure to communicate with your risk manager and contracts officer. If a learning site needs help understanding the agreement, work with your campus team and/or share the Legal Terminology 101This link will open a PDF file. (pdf) document. Lastly, please note that the Student Academic Field Experience for Credit Liability Insurance Program (SAFECLIP)This link will open a PDF file. (pdf) provides general and professional liability coverage for students enrolled in service-learning courses and learning sites only when the proper agreement is in place.
  5. Help Familiarize Students of their Rights: Help support a process for clearly communicating and informing students of the rights they have regarding service-learning placements. This can be done through the syllabus, during class time or as part of the online student placement process. Students should be aware that their course grade will not be affected as they have the right to decline signing the Release of Liability WaiverThis link will open a Word document. (docx) form. For students participating with a service-learning component, they have the right to contact a faculty member or designated University official at any time to modify their service requirement, report harassment, and inform them of unexpected changes to their service-learning responsibilities. By informing students of their options and their rights in service-learning placements, they can make a more informed choice about their participation. It is highly encouraged that service-learning/community engagement staff collaborate with faculty on how this information is communicated. See section on student rights for more information.
  6. Understand Purpose of Release of Liability Waivers: Waivers are strongly recommended for all service-learning participants and must be completed prior to the first day of service. They should be stored according to your campus document retention policy. Faculty should be prepared to have an alternative assignment (i.e., research, paper, class presentation) for students that decline signing the Waiver. The Release of Liability WaiverThis link will open a Word document. (docx) form is a legal document that students should read thoroughly before signing. As a service-learning/community engagement practitioner, you can collaborate with faculty to think creatively about engaging students who decline the Waiver. A variety of circumstances that students face may prohibit them from engaging in service-learning (i.e., transportation, health conditions, etc.) and they will self-select not to participate. There are countless ways to have students who decline to be on-site for service learning to still be engaged in the overall experience. See section, Release of Liability Waiver for more information.