Do good. Learn well.
That’s the unofficial motto SUNY Cortland seniors Crissana Christie and Regina Gianfreda followed during college. And when they graduate in May, they’ll be the first two students to earn special recognition on their diplomas for meaningful civic engagement.
Officially, their distinction will be known as the President’s Recognition for Engaged Learning and Leadership in Service-Learning. It’s a long title, but another way of saying that both Christie and Gianfreda applied their classroom training to outside service, then reflected on the lessons they learned.
“It’s about more than just community service,” said Christie, a biomedical sciences major from Brooklyn, N.Y. “With service-learning, you’re gaining something too … You learn more about yourself and the community around you.”
The designation was created by the College to recognize students who are willing to take on a sequence of complex community projects that emphasize civic values. All students, regardless of their major, can apply for the distinction.
“It involved a lot of preparation and a lot of hours, but it was so worthwhile,” said Gianfreda, an inclusive special education major from Ramsey, N.J. “Any time I have an opportunity to encourage people to go out and volunteer to gain an outside perspective — as opposed to just sitting in a classroom observing — I’m all for it.”
In order to earn the distinction, which is administered by the Office of Service-Learning within SUNY Cortland’s Institute for Civic Engagement, students must meet three general criteria. It requires 12 credit hours of progressive service-learning courses, 120 hours of service over at least four semesters, and participation in at least four service-related events during the first year in the program.
Christie and Gianfreda both tutored their fellow students and served as interns for the Office of Service-Learning, leading campus workshops and presentations on topics such as professionalism and cross-cultural understanding. They also teamed up to present in Philadelphia at a conference hosted by Campus Compact, an organization that promotes community service in higher education.
Their presentation noted the many ways SUNY Cortland weaves service-learning into its curriculum and encouraged other campuses to do the same. These service experiences could include mentoring, tutoring, care-giving, data collection or political and environmental-themed activities.
Even though SUNY Cortland’s first two recipients of the designation represent different academic majors, both Christie and Gianfreda greatly valued their experiences working in local classrooms. Gianfreda said her passion is working with children, which could lead her to become a teacher or reading specialist. Christie aspires to be a pediatrician. A volunteer experience at Randall Elementary School in Cortland helped confirm her ambition.
“Being able to work with those kids gave perspective on what I really want to do in life,” she said. “It was a great experience because I learned how to deal with different types of children and understand them.”
Gianfreda said the fall semester of her junior year, when she was juggling the field experience requirements of her major with tutoring and service-learning internship commitments, emphasized the benefits of the recognition program.
“It was a lot on my plate but at the end of the day, it helped me grow so much more as a professional,” she said. “I felt like I was learning more than I would have it I was only going to class … I was experiencing so much.”
For more information, or to apply for the the President’s Recognition for Engaged Learning and Leadership in Service-Learning, contact John Suarez, the service-learning coordinator for the College’s Institute for Civic Engagement, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-753-4391.