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Beyond The Classroom: Exploring Service Learning

Service Learning at Olivet

The Service Learning program has been running since 1999 at The University of Olivet. It started as an alternate program, but really kicked off in August of 2005 when Hurricane Katrina occurred. 

Service Learning trips happen every academic year at Olivet, these trips give students a chance to communities outside of Olivet, Michigan, and the opportunity to make friends. What most students don’t see is the planning that goes behind these trips, like the trip this ILT period to Hawaii.

 “My role in planning the trips is reaching out to both new and long-term project partners to coordinate times for the students to travel and volunteer with. When I am looking for a project partner or volunteer location, I consider a few things including what kind of work is being done, what the cost of travel and staying would be, and what the students can learn from volunteering there. For example, the reason I chose Hawaii for the ILT Service Learning trip was because the local communities are still in great need help from volunteer organizations such as All Hands And Hearts (AHAH). AHAH provides housing and food for volunteers which keeps the cost low for students, and there is a lot to learn about environmental destruction, disaster relief, and Hawaiian culture,” said Casey Eldridge, the Community Service Coordinator at Olivet, who is leading the trip in Hawaii.

Mike Fales ’75 has overseen Service Learning for about 20 years. He also plays a big role in choosing the places students travel to and the planning beforehand. “Our longer trips are quite often disaster related, but not always, and our shorter trips are designed to provide unique learning experiences for students,” said Fales.

When it comes to picking a place to go, Fales or Eldridge reach out to places to come visit, or sometimes places reach out to them. “We have to build relationships with people and communities, establishing a relationship and setting up the first trip is the hardest job we do. What we like to do is if we go somewhere and really find that to have been a valuable experience, we try to build a long-term relationship with those nonprofits. The spring break trip that we’re doing to Biloxi, Mississippi is with a nonprofit called Back Bay Mission. Biloxi, for whatever reason, has an unusually large population of homeless. That experience teaches our students about that particular segment of our population and the problems that they deal with,” said Fales.

Jared Ingram, a senior at Olivet went on a Biloxi trip last spring. “The work involved ensured the homeless in the area where Back Bay supervised were given their mail, food, and showers daily. The other part of the project was to renew and replace the siding of a woman's home who was hit by a recent hurricane years ago and who never received help,” said Ingram.

Asia Sherman, a junior at Olivet went on a trip to the Middle East and learned a lot about their culture. “We spent a week and a half exploring the United Arab Emirates, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Oman learning about the immensely rich history of the Middle East. From the birth of astrology to technology of the future, United Arab Emirates had so many things to offer. We visited the United Nations International Climate Change summit on our first day, and I was blown away all the amazing advancements we’ve been making over the past few years,” said Sherman.

When it comes to the effect that Olivet students leave on the communities when they leave, Eldridge says it is lasting, especially volunteer projects that they help with often. “Olivet students have also assisted with construction projects in disaster relief areas or removing damaged parts of buildings after a fire which greatly aids rebuilding efforts in a community. I think the greatest impact the students have though is restoring hope. Many people can be frustrated, depressed, or discouraged and seeing the students give up time to lend a helping hand can have an even greater impact than the actual work being done,” said Eldridge.

These trips not only have a lasting effect on the community, but on the students who participate as well. “The trip was very enjoyable, not only because the work was very fulfilling but also due to the great people we interacted with at both sites and the company we brought to aid the mission in the first place. A lot of memories were made that I could never forget,” said Ingram. “Due to this experience, I have joined Olivet's own club that prides itself on service in the RoterAct club and I would definitely do it again for an even bigger impact on the community.”

If you are interested in a Service Learning trip, it is first come first serve, please email Mike Fales at or Casey Eldridge at for more information on the two Service Learning trips available this semester. 

By Brie Broderick, Taylor Wilsey and Caleb Arthur


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