In the fall of 2017 Northland President Dennis Bona unveiled a new initiative to promote volunteerism and help increase community awareness while fostering student engagement within the region. With this new protocol in place, students enrolling in an associate degree program are required to complete a Service Learning experience prior to graduation. The program’s mission is to support and promote student success and engagement through curricular community service to enhance students’ civic responsibility and personal growth while providing a positive impact on the community. Among the first to complete the Service Learning program, students Alex Wohlgamuth and Sarah Rose gained an appreciation for the collective community around them.

Alex Wohlgamuth

Alex Wohlgamuth

Alex Wohlgamuth a sophomore liberal arts student from Manvel, ND had reservations about the program’s relevance to his education. “I really questioned what volunteering had to do with my schooling,” explains Alex, “However, I decided to keep an open mind.” Tri-Valley Head Start in East Grand Forks was where Alex chose to complete his experience. “My mom’s a teacher, so the connection felt natural even though I haven’t spent much time around kids,” shared Alex. Persuaded by his mother, Alex was forced out of his comfort zone and entered the realm of early childhood education. Alex was encouraged to jump right in and assist the teachers and aids in the daily classroom routine. “I couldn’t believe how excited the kids were to have a visitor, how they were all crowding around me for my attention, wanting me to play with them,” exclaimed Alex, “They were looking up to me as a role model after only a few hours with them.” Reflecting on his experience, Alex now understands the meaning behind the program. “Northland wants you to gain knowledge beyond your degree path. They are attempting to educate the whole person and want you to leave with a well-rounded experience,” described Alex.

Sarah Rose

Sophomore liberal arts student, Sarah Rose chose to complete her experience at Hope Church in Grand Forks. Sarah was assigned to help with some organization in the office and general cleaning around the church. “I really came away with an appreciation for people that do custodial work. I was unaware of the time and attention to detail it takes to complete some of those tasks,” states Sarah. “They are usually behind the scenes and don’t get the appreciation they deserve.” Like Alex, Sarah wondered why Northland created an extra step to obtain her degree. “I thought it was another barrier,” expressed Sarah. It wasn’t until after she completed her project that she understood the relevance. “Northland is encouraging those who might not otherwise volunteer in the community to take the leap, to just do it,” explains Sara, “Taking that first step can help show students the importance of serving in their communities not just today, but into the future.”

Embracing Service Learning

To finalize the Service Learning requirement, Alex and Sarah completed papers to reflect on their participation. Both students were recognized by the faculty coordinator for their thoughtful and comprehensive review of their experience. Embracing a pioneering spirit, Alex and Sarah are some of the first students to complete the Service Learning program. “The experiences shared by Alex and Sarah are perfect examples of what we are trying to accomplish with this program. I’m extremely pleased with the level of participation and quality of engagement students are having with our communities,” says President Bona. Northland plans to make these stories commonplace by continuing to develop new service opportunities and foster relationships with more community partners.