Episode #010: Service Learning with Brian Halderman

Welcome to the Volunteer Nation Podcast, bringing you practical tips and advice on how to build, grow, and scale volunteer talent. I’m your host, Tobi Johnson. And if you rely on volunteers to fuel your charity, cause, or movement, stay tuned. I made this podcast just for you.

When I interview leaders of volunteers, I’m always surprised at how many people come from national service and internships before they even start their careers in non-profits.

Voluntary service is a pathway to employment, but not for a job where you volunteer, but rather as a career exploration tool. Some people catch the passion for non-profit work during their volunteer experiences.

So when we think about engaging students in service, we need to consider how to design experiences that both serve their learning and also serve our organization’s needs. I think it also helps to approach student volunteers with an investment mindset, to take the long view with the understanding that we are sowing the seeds for tomorrow’s nonprofit leaders today.

Our guest today has so much more to share about how we can make those mutually beneficial partnerships truly thrive. So without further ado, let’s get started.

Brian Halderman has over 20 years’ experience in community engagement in higher education. Having served as the Director of the Center for Civic Engagement at the University of Texas at San Antonio and the University Minister of Social Justice at St Mary’s University.

He has experience as a faculty member teaching a range of courses in social work, sociology and civic engagement. He currently serves as the Director of Success and Outreach with GivePulse – actually, I should say Senior Director – a Senior Director of Success and Outreach at GivePulse, a civic tech firm that supports community engagement software for nonprofits, higher education, municipalities and corporate partners.

An active member of his local community, he serves as chair of the board of the San Antonio Community Resource Directory, an online resource of compassionate services offered by non-profits, faith-based, and public sector organizations.

A graduate of the University of Dayton with a BA in religious studies, he also holds a Master’s in social work from Washington University in St. Louis. Bryan is also, on top of all of that, a licensed master social worker in the state of Texas. So welcome to the Volunteer Nation Podcast, Brian!

BRIAN: Thank you, Tobi. So nice to be here. What a great introduction.

TOBI: Well, I think I fumbled a little bit, but I hope I did you justice.

BRIAN: Thank you very much.

TOBI: I am so excited to have you today because we’ve been teaching inside the VolunteerPro community. I think we talked about this last time we were on with each other just before, when we were prepping for this interview, I was talking about inside the VolunteerPro community, we’ve been doing some training around service learning. And I was partnering with one of our members who has done some work actually setting standards for her for secondary Institute, or secondary institutions throughout her state.

And we were talking a lot about how things are evolving so quickly. So I’m really excited to talk about this and I think not all our nonprofits understand the true potential that is there when we partner with educational institutions. But before we get into all that good stuff, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and the work you do?

BRIAN: Sure. That’d be great. Thank you. Yeah, I think I’ll start just by saying, I was first introduced to the power of service learning and what is often referred to – now I think the terminology changes and we’ll talk more about that later – but community-based learning. You know, even as far back as high school, I can remember having a requirement to fulfill for service in high school and being introduced to that experience. And then later in my undergrad years, being involved in service learning both in an academic course, as well as co-curricularly.

And that really, I think propelled me to a career of service in many ways, as you mentioned at the top of the podcast. And so, I then went off to get a master’s in social work and really focused on sort of macro community empowerment and development. I spent a year in Peru working on my Spanish skills and working with students there, empowering them in volunteerism and service learning.

And so all of that has really led me to where I am today to have the history as you mentioned, working in higher education at the intersection of service and learning, and supporting students in various entities, both academic-wise in courses as well as also co-curricular.

And now my work with GivePulse. So I think, you know, as you mentioned, we really are trying to help support communities to do this work well, to facilitate this work well, and provide a platform to help that come together.

And so it really is a merging of my own passions for community empowerment and compassionate service and education, and really looking at how we create a space to advance the common good together and do it well.

TOBI: Yeah. And your platform at GivePulse…we’ll link to links in the show note so folks can explore more, but your platform really does well to create and provide a space for higher education and nonprofits to connect, which I think is really fantastic.

So let’s go into learning-based volunteerism or community-based learning. It goes by so many names nowadays, you know, service learning, internships, work study, the list goes on, right?

I think this kind of volunteerism is also misunderstood. So let’s kick it off with a definition. How do you define service learning, or is there a better term that you think is more appropriate at this time?

BRIAN: Yeah, like you said, there’s literally hundreds of definitions, I think. And if you do a live review on this, you’ll find all kinds, and some would say it’s a pedagogy. Others would say it’s an educational philosophy. Others might say a model for community development.

I really like it when somebody types out “service-learning” with the hyphen between service and learning, because I really think that illustrates the definition, right? It’s a pedagogy that bridges or connects community service with the learning. And just that visual, when you see the word typed out with that hyphen in there, I think really I tend to lean more.

So Barbara Jacoby is a leading scholar in the field. I’m sure she’s retired probably by now, but really was a leading scholar in higher ed service learning work. And she defined service learning as a form of experiential education in which students engage in activities that address human and community needs together, with structured opportunities for reflection designed to achieve learning outcomes.

So I think the key thing is we look at common elements of all of these definitions. There’s going to be a service component, right? There’s some sort of academic classroom component, and there’s reflection on that experience. And so those are, I would say, the core elements of any good definition of service learning.

TOBI: Yeah. And I would agree the reflection piece, I think, is the piece that people often forget, especially if the nonprofit side, because they’re not developing the curriculum usually, or they may be in partnership with the school, but usually they’re designing the experience for the volunteer or the service learner.

So that’s the area that I think is really interesting, that idea of reflection, because you actually don’t learn anything until you reflect on it.

BRIAN: Right. And my challenge to the nonprofit partners is always to be co-educator in the experience and to feel empowered as the co-educator. And we’ll talk about that a little bit later, but I definitely think there’s a role for the nonprofits to play in helping to facilitate student reflection and really achieving those learning outcomes.

TOBI: Yeah, absolutely. So I also think this kind of volunteerism has evolved over recent years. There’s been, you know, as you said, plenty of literature review, if you want to literature review this, there’s plenty of academic research on the topic.

There’s centers for community-based learning established at universities. You used to direct one and work at one. Multitudes of resources and toolkits that are online. If you do a Google search, you can find tons of tool kits online, and many schools, as you mentioned, require – in your own experience require – at both the secondary and post-secondary level.

In fact, if you think of Brownies, people are doing service learning at like age 5, 6, 7. It’s a part of our world nowadays. So how have you seen service learning, or the community-based education evolve in recent years?

BRIAN: Yeah, I think there’s been a real evolution, you know, probably in the last 20 plus years. I would say there have been a lot of questions surrounding the power dynamic of service learning.

And, you know, for example, if we think about students coming into an organization for a short period of time, maybe with an approach and understanding that they’re there to solve a problem. Or meet a particular need benign to sort of the intent, right?

There may be no context to them surrounding the social issue that’s being impacted by the work of this organization or any other kinds of dynamics at play. They’re just dropped right in. And so, I think there’s a real need, and there’s been a real evolution about how do we prepare students better to be in these environments.

I think there are questions around race and socioeconomic status of the student and the impact that that has on the experience of individuals they might serve in an organization, as well as the students themselves. What’s the context for them in that experience?

And so inherent in the issue is this have-and-have-not at play. And how do we wrestle with that? Diana Mitchell, who’s an associate professor at the University of Minnesota, has written a significant amount on this topic.

And there is a great journal called the Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning. I would encourage folks to look it up. It’s an open-source journal. So all the articles are available without too much difficulty. She wrote an article really looking at this idea of traditional service learning, and what is now being called critical service learning and developing a new model.

And that model is really drawing up on a lot of researchers in the early 2000’s that started arguing. We need to infuse this experience with a social change orientation, so that students understand that the work is about social change and not just a job, not just meeting an immediate need, so to speak.

It’s an opportunity to work at the redistribution of power and help folks understand those challenges. And then how do we develop authentic relationships? You know, if a student comes into an organization and they might meet somebody for a split second and assist them with whatever that need is, there’s no relationship that’s being developed with those individuals or even with the organization itself.

And so I think there’s a real, real evolution in this area. And I think it’s exciting, honestly, that we’re actually really digging deep and trying to evolve on this. I think the other thing I’ll just say, and I mentioned this earlier, as the terms are changing a lot. So very few, I would say, institutions of higher ed use “service learning” anymore.

They use terms like community-engaged learning, or community-based learning, or just simply engaged learning. I think in the K to 12 space, they’re still using the service learning term more.

And then if you’re really interested in digging deep and doing Google searches, I would encourage you to search “engage scholarship” because that is the breadth of the academic research and work on service learning and community engagement as a whole.

That’s the study of community engagement that scholars are doing across the states and really globally. There’s some really great things happening internationally on this conversation too.

And so, yeah, so those are just some thoughts about how it’s really evolving.

TOBI: Yeah, that’s fantastic. And by the way, I’ll do a little bit of searching put some links in, and direct links to some of the folks.

BRIAN: Sure. I can definitely share those articles with you as well. That’d be great.

TOBI: Yeah, that’s fantastic. So I think while some of the folks I work with, leaders of volunteers in their organizations, are eager to add service learning and community-based education to their mix of volunteer opportunities, in my experience, I find that people are still reluctant if they haven’t been doing it. Or they don’t have a huge mandate to do it, they’re reluctant to give it a try or add it to their mix of offers.

What do you think’s holding volunteer-driven organizations back from tapping what I think is a phenomenal recurring source of emerging talent?

BRIAN: Yeah. I think it’s the fear of the unknown, right? What are we getting into? I think for a lot of organizations, I think a lot of them have a misunderstanding around capacity to do this.

I have seen it successfully implemented in very small organizations that might have one or two full-time staff. And I’ve seen it done really well in very large organizations that have a lot of staff.

So I do think it’s really important for organizations to ask the question like, “what is it, what is this?” And you know, “What’s in it for me?” What’s the value-add to the organization to collaborate in such a formalized way with a K to 12 institution or a higher ed institution for service learning?

But I really think the value-add is great if it’s done well. You can look at, not only is there the human capital to fill volunteer roles, but there’s also the opportunity to bring in fresh perspectives and knowledge that maybe you didn’t have before, right?

There’s opportunity to fill gaps in expertise. So I can think of really strong…maybe there’s an organization that really needs help on their social media outreach or on the development of some technology tools or websites. There are a lot of students out there that are digital natives, that know this work, that could really benefit an organization to help significantly do that.

I mean, the one where I see great things happening, oftentimes it’s program evaluation. Organizations spend a lot of money to do program evaluation. If they can find a faculty that’s got expertise in that and students that are wanting to learn those processes to do a good program, it can be a really successful partnership.

So there’s a lot of things you can think about in terms of the benefits, not only, as you mentioned too at the top of the cast, is that these are future volunteers and future donors and future engaged citizens of our community.

And if we can have a role in contributing to that and giving them a significant and lasting impression of the power of our organization and the impact we’re having on the community, they are likely to return.

And I have seen that many times where students might have a requirement to go, but they have such a great experience that they’re back there next semester volunteering, or they’re giving $5 to them instead of buying a Starbucks.

It really can have a significant impact on the individual student, but also be benefiting the organization as a whole. You know what I mean? So I think there’s just this fear of unknown and really, I think the importance for an organization just to really do some introspection to see how could we do this and do it well.

TOBI: Which goes for all volunteer roles really. It takes work, gang. It just, which community are you engaging? Are you deciding to engage at this point?

BRIAN: Absolutely. Absolutely.

TOBI: Well, let’s take a quick break. And when we come back, we will talk more specifically about best practices and really practical tools and practical methods we can use to really engage in a better way and not feel so stressed out about it.

Calm everybody down. Like, you know what? This doesn’t have to be super hard. It can actually be a joyful experience for your organization.

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TOBI: Okay, we’re back with our discussion with Brian Halderman about service learning, community-based learning, community engagement, whichever way you like to describe it.

Let’s dig into best practices and how organizations can prepare to welcome students into service. Brian, what are examples of successful service learning partnerships that you’ve seen?

BRIAN: Yeah, I’ve seen a number of really helpful and good partnerships over the years. I think the key thing is for both the higher ed institution or K to 12 institution that’s placing students, as well as the nonprofit or a community organization, to really be prepared to plan and execute a really good program.

And why I say that is, I think it’s really important as you mentioned as well at the top of the podcast that these relationships be mutually beneficial. And that the partner really be receiving a significant service and that the student be significantly receiving good learning.

And so I think what I think is really the best type of service learning experiences are when they align with the critical unmet needs of the surrounding community. And so, in higher ed realms, they talk a lot about place-based engagement or anchor institutions.

And really what that means is looking at how do we identify local organizations close to campus, or within walking distance, or a short bus ride, or a short bike trip to respond to these critical needs of the community and how do we align them to local identified needs.

And those needs are being identified by local foundations or United Way, or city or county governments are doing analysis and strategic planning around how to solve larger issues like generational poverty or youth literacy or financial literacy or teen pregnancy.

And I’ll just use my own course examples. So in San Antonio, I’ve taught a number of courses over the years at St. Mary’s University and a civic engagement course that we taught. We had faculty that work together on that curriculum and identified, I think there were like four major social issues that we wanted to prepare students in terms of their knowledge base on and engage them in the community around these issues.

And they were food insecurity and senior isolation and youth literacy and generational poverty. Big issues, but we can make it really easy to engage students with those issues by identifying core partners.

So we worked with Meals On Wheels. And we said to Meals On Wheels, we’ll adopt two routes around campus and engage students in delivering those meals every day. And we prepared them by talking about food insecurity and senior isolation. And we had meals on wheels come into the classrooms and talk about the experience of serving seniors in the community.

And the students had a fantastic experience doing that. So it was a win-win all around. We worked with a youth literacy serving organization that places reading buddies in second-grade classrooms.

And you know, the research out there and literacy is, a student is learning to read up to second grade. When they hit third grade, they’re reading to learn, so if a student is behind on reading, it’s that second grader that really needs the assistance.

And so that was a great experience because students were able to go in once a week into the elementary schools and be a reading tutor and a reading buddy, but we prepared them well about the power of youth literacy, but also what was the challenge in our local community on those issues.

And the other thing I will say is the faculty member has to communicate to the partner what the learning outcomes are. I think there’s a disconnect there oftentimes. And so if you’re from a partner perspective, working with a faculty member or working with a center on a campus, ask the question, what do you hope the students gonna learn?

How can you play a part in being a co-educator in that experience and helping to facilitate some good reflection and understanding? The other key piece is how do you prepare the student? Well, I think sometimes organizations run them through their general volunteer training, and I don’t think that’s enough.

I think they really need to understand more about the social issue that they’re impacting, more about the mission of the organization and history of the organization. You know, give the students a little more than what you might even do with a general volunteer.

TOBI: I think too, just generally about how the non-profit sector or in some cases it’s a government sector or public sector, how it operates in general. I think when we work in the field for so long, we assume even other types of volunteers, we assume they know our jargon. We assume they understand why or why things can or cannot be done.

You know, I think the sector is more complicated than people give it credit, but if you’re living and breathing it every day, don’t really think that you have to give people a little bit of overview of how it all works behind the scenes.

BRIAN: Yeah, absolutely. Totally agree. Yeah.

TOBI: Yeah. So if an organization wanted to take the plunge, a nonprofit, what is some practical advice you could offer in addition to understanding those learning outcomes?

I think sometimes people forget that it is about learning here. And again, I totally resonated when you were talking about how young people are building their emerging philanthropy chops in a lot of ways,

You know, they’re thinking. They’re starting to realize community issues. They’re starting to realize where their passions lie. They’re starting, at some point when an ask is made of them, when they are transitioning into the workforce, they’re going to be more likely to pick up on it and go, “Yeah, I understand this issue. I understand it well because I had personal lived experience working in helping solve it.”

BRIAN: Yeah, Absolutely. Absolutely. I think I would say, I would start in terms of practical advice. I would really start with saying to an organization, do a little bit of internal assessment in terms of looking at what your needs are as an organization, and where you think students that are in a service learning type of experience could help fill those needs.

You don’t want students to come and just necessarily be doing busy work, you know, filing papers for you or that kind of thing. But what’s going to give the student a significant impactful experience in your organization? So really thinking about what are the roles they could fill.

And then think about what’s the return on investment for you, right? So you are investing time, staff, time, energy, engagement, to really work with these students, just like you would with any other volunteers that you might be hosting. But really thinking about what’s that return, and is it worth the partnership and the effort and the energy?

And then think about the capacity to really support student learners. As I said, it takes work and it’s really important for the organization to see themselves as co-educator and understand what their role is in supporting the students and in hosting them at their organization.

I think the other thing, other piece of advice I would say in being a proactive approach here is to go prepared to an institution. So if you really come up with this idea, like, “Yeah, we need to host students. This is great.”

If you just call up the organization or the institution’s center for community engagement and say, “We want to have service learning students,” their first question to you is, “Well, what are your needs? And what kind of department do you think you could work with?” And they’re going to ask you lots of questions.

Whereas if you come in more prepared to say, “Okay, how can we make this a mutually beneficial partnership?” That’s not a one-and-done, but it’s a long-lasting partnership that semester to semester, I’m going to be working with the same faculty member or a series of faculty members in the same department. And they’re going to be sharing, sending students to us.

So really think strategically about what’s in it for you and what’s in it for them, and go in prepared to have that conversation. Search for the right contact on the campus. Sometimes this can be hard.

And some campuses are doing a better job of communicating to the community, this is who you contact. But look for an office of community engagement, or service learning, or student service, or volunteerism, or civic engagement. There are many campuses have those types of offices.

And don’t approach the institution thinking it’s going to happen next week. You know, I mean, again, preparation. Be proactive, but I would say be prepared to have this conversation and not see students place for six months to a year.

And why I say that is, everything works on an academic calendar and faculty are preparing these courses months ahead. So if you approach them in July and expect to have students in August, you might get lucky and have students in August, but it’s more likely you’re not going to have students until the spring semester.

You know, it takes time to identify who are the faculty we’re going to work with, who are the groups of students that we’re going to work with, and really for that to get off the ground.

And then lastly, I would say clear expectations. So what is expected from the organization and supervising the student and co-educating the student, what’s the preparation that’s needed to orient the student and what are the expectations from the institutional side as well. What can you expect from, how are they going to prepare the students, in terms of the faculty or the institution of higher ed.

So really just having patience. So in summary, doing an internal assessment, go prepared with a plan, you know, being proactive in that approach, identify the right offices and contexts. Know it’s gonna take some time and clear expectations.

TOBI: Yeah. Fantastic. Yeah. I think when people are figuring out, okay, well, how could a student help our organization? Where’s the ROI for us? There’s so many…when you’re thinking about pro bono or skills-based volunteering, there are a million ways.

And if you think about it, students are in classes, like you mentioned. Program assessment or organizational assessment, communications, social media marketing…people are in school learning the what’s-working-now tactics, right?

BRIAN: The business plan, marketing, social work students, education students, you name it.

And I would also say the variety of service learning. So it’s not just students in an academic course, but you also get students who are having to need an internship placement or a practical placement.

You could get students who are on a community-based work study, where they’re actually getting paid for their time and your organization, so it could be some real significant benefits to the organization.

TOBI: Yeah. I really think that organizations shouldn’t be scared off by the six months to year prep. Once you establish a relationship with a faculty member, and I recommend starting with one person just starting small, once you do that you can develop something that can be repeated.

And I think also people in nonprofits have to realize whatever they’re developing or whatever they’re offering at their non-profit is impacting that faculty member in terms of their planning for their class. They need to prepare students for your workplace, and they need to decide when they’re going to offer that course.

So there’s a lot of, when you say you’re co-producing that those learning outcomes are you’re co-planning that curriculum. I think that’s totally the case. I don’t think people often think of it that way.

BRIAN: Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, I would say, be leery of a student who comes and says, I just have this service requirement for my class that I need to get done. I would ask more questions. What’s the course, what are your learning outcomes? You know, who’s the faculty, because a faculty should be really embedding this in the curriculum.

They should know who their partners are that students are working with. When I work with faculty and in my past years in working with faculty, I always say to them, identify some core organizations you’re going to work with, make sure you reach out to them, know who they are, set the expectations, have those conversations.

So as much as you approaching an institutional merit or a faculty, a faculty member might approach you. So be prepared for that. The other thing I would say is, there’s lots of ways you can utilize students beyond just a traditional service learning course.

There’s internships and practica and community-based work study students who are being paid to be placed in your organization. So there’s lots of great opportunities to collaborate and work with institutions, and really benefit the organization overall.

TOBI: Yeah. Let me ask you a couple of follow-up questions. These questions come from leaders of volunteers all the time. They’re super. First question is, do I need to pay a service learning or a community-based student?

BRIAN: For the most part, the answer to that is no. There are some models of community-based work study where the institution might be asked to invest a portion of the overall salary of that student. But in my experience, the program I ran, we fully funded it so that the partner was never asked for any funding, but that varies depending on the institution you might work with. But for the most part, no, there’s no financial.

TOBI: That’s a great question. Except staff time, of course. And then the second question I hear a ton is, “Hey, I engage these students. How do I get them to keep coming back?” What are your thoughts on that? Do you hear that a lot?

BRIAN: Yeah. Yeah, I do. And that’s really great. That’s a great question. And I think some folks drop the ball here. So what I was saying is, I think it’s really important to provide a significant and impactful experience for the student.

So again, they’re in a role where they are interacting with your clientele or they’re really feeling the benefit of the work of the organization and the role that they’re doing. And then when you know that the semester’s coming to an end or that their time with the organization is coming to an end, I would be marketing ways for them to continue to be involved with the organization.

So, “Hey, we have an opportunity coming up. Would you like to help support this event? We’d love to have you keep coming back. Can we interest you in coming back next?” You know? And you have to also be understanding of a student who might not live in your local community. They might be there for the semester and go back home for the summer.

But hey, when they’re back in the fall, they’d love to volunteer, right? So you also have to be flexible in that regard but take the opportunity to really engage students and invite them back. I think invitation is really empowered.

TOBI: Yeah. I also think people are, students are, their number one goal in life at the moment is to get as many learning experiences as they can, as many workplace experiences as they can. So if you’re offering them, “Hey, just stick around and keep doing the same thing.” You know, their job is to add experience to their resume and become employable.

And so if you want folks to stick around and help, you’ve got to add more value to what they can learn, what they can add to their resume. So talking to them about, where do you want to grow? What are other areas of need you see in our organization? How can that match? What classes are you taking next semester, really make it more of a consultative process. I think is also helpful.

BRIAN: Yeah. And that’s a great point. I’ve seen students move into being a general volunteer to being an intern in an organization. And then even later getting hired at an organization. I had community-based work study students. I had a great experience where a student was an accounting major. She was a work-study working with me. She really wanted to hone her skills in nonprofit accounting.

We found an arts organization in town that was looking for a student, and their accounting office was a match made in heaven. The student had a great experience. She was there a year on the work study program. The work study funds ran out and they hired her. Turned into a job. So, you know, great experiences that students can have if you really leverage them.

TOBI: Well, on the flip side, what do you think’s the biggest mistake? The number one biggest mistake people make when setting up these types of projects or partnerships,

BRIAN: I think not being thoughtful and intentional about the partnership. It’s more than just you need volunteers and students need hours. I think if we’re not thoughtful and intentional about the partnership, there’s opportunities missed.

If there’s just no communication between campus and the partner or the faculty member and the partner, I just think that’s a shame. So I just really dislike when faculty say, “Oh, I want you to do 20 hours in the community.” What’s the connection, you know?

And so I think if you experienced that as a partner, I would go to the institution and say, “We don’t want to do that anymore.” How do we develop significant partnerships where students can really build authentic relationships with our organization and with our clientele, and we can build a significant relationship with you all on with faculty on campus?

TOBI: Yeah. I love that piece of advice. Have the conversation if it’s not working out.

BRIAN: Yes, absolutely.

TOBI: Many organizations just go, “Hey, well, I guess it’s not working out this, isn’t going to work out. We’re not going to do this anymore,” rather than saying, “Hey, is there something we can do to improve the situation?”

BRIAN: Right. And the last thing you want is to embark on this endeavor with a campus, and then not feel like you’re getting good value out of it or getting the service that you need rendered from the experience. And so you need to have that conversation for sure.

TOBI: Fantastic. Brian, this has been a fantastic conversation. I hope that it is inspiring you as you listen out there, our dear listeners. that this is absolutely doable.

It’s very exciting. I used to work in youth programs, so I have a certain soft spot for youth and young adults, but there are fresh ideas out there. Students are learning things in class that they could bring as value to your organization. Now they’re not going to be expert in the workplace environment yet. They’re in learning mode. So, we have to help guide them.

But again, as I said earlier, we’re developing the next generation of nonprofit leaders. They will come from our service learning and our community-based education students. They’ll come from our national service members. That’s where people are dipping their baby toe into our sector and saying, “Huh, this is really interesting.”

I mean, I’ve worked in nonprofits and public sector organizations my entire career. I could never leave because I loved it that much. Those people are out there. Now I started when I was in my early twenties working in the sector. And my very first “job” was an internship, an unpaid internship.

So, Brian, one last question as we wrap up, what are you most excited about in the year ahead?

BRIAN: I think I’m really excited about the evolving conversation that’s happening, particularly in higher ed circles. I’ve been to a number of virtual and in-person conferences this year, where there’s been a lot of emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion and our work in higher ed, and particularly how that aligns with community engagement, service learning initiatives.

And that is just so exciting to me. I mean, all that’s been happening in the world with COVID and the racial injustice and the Black Lives Matter movement and these kinds of things. I think this gives me a lot of hope for the deepening of critical service learning practice.

What I was talking about earlier, and students being placed with organizations to not only be of service, but to deeply learn about issues of exclusion and injustice and oppression and, and sort of what their role is in the world to help advance the common good and an equitable and sustainable way. So that gives me a lot of hope.

TOBI: For sure. I mean, think about that part of your early learning and having a place to explore your feelings. I really believe that volunteerism, for all types of volunteers, is a great place to start to experience people who are different than you.

And you, when you bump into people who are different than you, you call into question some of your maybe long-held biases you might have. “Wow. That person isn’t really what, how I thought they would be.” So I think it’s a great way for us to rebuild communities after we’ve had a pretty tough time lately.

BRIAN: Yeah. And, and one last piece of advice I would give to organizations in this area particularly too, is don’t be afraid to expose students in one-time experiences with your organization, because those one-time experiences can lead to a snowball effect of the student wanting to come back or wanting to deepen a relationship with an organization.

And particularly if they see there’s opportunities to learn on these particular issues and expand their horizon. I mean, I think about my own experience as a young person. And it was these slow introductions to organizations as maybe a one-time volunteer at an event or an opportunity that led me deeper into the conversation and deeper into the experiences. So open up your doors for those opportunities, too.

TOBI: Fantastic, great way to wrap up. So Brian, tell us how people can learn more about GivePulse and get in touch with you if they have more questions.

BRIAN: Yeah. So for sure, access the show notes where we’ve got some links and I’ve shared some blog posts, particularly on service learning and community engagement work on those blog posts, but GivePulse.com is the best place. Or I’m happy to get email from folks I can be reached at Brian@GivePulse.com.

TOBI: Fantastic. Brian, thanks so much for being one of our early interviewees on Volunteer Nation. It’s so exciting to talk about this. I’m so happy to be able to share, maybe just inspire people if they’ve had a hard time with students in the past, or they’ve never tried working with students to just give them the courage to step up again.

This field is evolving quickly. There are so many conversations. There are so many resources. We’ll have lots in the show notes, and I’m just happy you were here to share this with us.

BRIAN: It’s a real honor. Thank you for the invitation and a pleasure to work with you on this. And hopefully, this is the first of many more conversations we can have to support this work and elevate this work in the community engagement space.

TOBI: Thank you.

Volunteer Nation is produced by Thick Skin Media. Be sure to rate, review, and follow the show on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. For more tips and notes from the show, check us out at Tobijohnson.com. We hope to see you next week for another episode of Volunteer Nation.