FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Creating community involvement, Washburn supports students and community
BILLINGS, September 8, 2014 – RMC students grow through service by volunteering and doing community service work study hundreds of hours each year in the Billings community. Jill Washburn, community service coordinator at RMC, creates many of their opportunities.
“Even though it’s not academics-driven, not an internship, I make community work study academic and useful. I quiz them to death: ‘Why are you choosing this?’” she said. She helps students seek their own answers as they reflect on long-term career goals.
Volunteering is not only a potential career path for students – at the end of the day, we value our lives for our interaction and commitments. “I have the opportunity to make it not about the paycheck but about them,” Washburn said. “We have a lot of heart-to-heart conversations in the office. It’s awesome. I love my job.”
“Service learning” puts students in real-world settings to learn experientially as community volunteers. An ideal of progressive education since the 1990s, some educators have mistrusted service learning’s potential lack of measurable learning outcomes or poor academic oversight. It also takes work to construct and evaluate meaningful opportunities for students. Thanks to Washburn, the community involvement office at RMC has overcome each of these objections.
“I do site visits, I do evaluations with the students, I get feedback from agencies, and I hold the agencies to some pretty strict standards” to provide effective opportunities for RMC undergraduates, she said. Partnerships coordinated by her office must demonstrate mutual benefit to students, the College, and the local agency. Her dialogues with agencies explore how RMC can assist the community and help to inspire new student initiatives.
RMC in many ways offers a national blueprint for community involvement by effectively partnering students with local organizations to support their missions. “It is more partnership-based service now,” Washburn said. This fall she expects to blog about the RMC model for ServiceNation Montana. ServiceNation is a national coalition oforganizations that support national service.
As a new RMC alumna, Washburn began in 2010 by coordinating mainly volunteer efforts. In 2014-15, she arranges more federally-funded work study opportunities for students. “We work with approximately 25 students each semester who receive work study salary for their community service and 15 to 20 agencies that host these community service work study students.” Washburn has new work study partnerships in the works including with United Way of Yellowstone County, Volunteers of America Northern Rockies, and agencies in Carbon County.
Her job was originally funded by Montana Campus Compact, a coalition of Montana college and university executives dedicated to community service, civic engagement, and service-learning in higher education. The RMC community has recognized the value of her coordination. Washburn works 25 hours for 10 months a year. She collaborates with community service agencies region-wide and with the student activities, residence life, and spiritual life offices at RMC.