VISTA builds service program

Between the beginning of September and the end of March, Oakland University students logged 1,751.5 hours of community service. This was largely due to the efforts of Tiffany Sims, an AmeriCorps Campus Compact Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA).

Sims, a 2009 Eastern Michigan University graduate, began working at Oakland University’s campus last August.

Sims describes the AmeriCorps VISTA program as a sort of “domestic Peace Corps.” The organization’s programs work to end poverty in the country, as well as provide other community services.

The Campus Compact VISTA program specifically works to empower students, mainly through indirect service by its members and the use of service learning on its campuses.

After her experiences in the Alternative Spring Break program at EMU and the encouragement from her campus VISTA, Sims decided to apply to the AmeriCorps VISTA Campus Compact program.

“Really through my experience with Alternative Spring Breaks I decided to do VISTA,” Sims said. “I was a site leader for ASB in 2008, and then decided to be a coordinator the next year. I did a lot with budgeting, got to know all the participants who went and liked doing the indirect service planning the trips.”

She applied at several schools throughout Michigan, as well as in North Carolina, South Carolina, Washington D.C. and Georgia.

“I interviewed all over the place but at OU I liked that I get to work with the students doing ASB and also the opportunity to work with Academic Affairs and faculty on service learning,” Sims said.

Since her work at OU began, Sims has implemented service programs, as well as working on the existing service programs. The two components of Sims’s job include working the Center for Student Activities Volunteer and Leadership Center, as well as through Academic Affairs.

At the CSA, Sims’s main projects include the Community Service Council, Alternative Spring Breaks, the Volunteer Involvement Partnerships (VIP) program and the Make It a Point to Volunteer Once a Month program.

Additionally through the CSA, she’s responsible for planning special events, including working in a collaborative group of other campus VISTAs in southeast Michigan to plan Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.

For the OU students’ portion of the day of service, the students worked at Grace Centers of Hope.

Another special event she planned involved working with United Way of Southeastern Michigan to get OU students involved in Make a Difference Day in October.

That day, more than 200 students volunteered at various service locations, including Beyond Basics, OLHSA, Grace Centers of Hope, the Baldwin Center and Salvation Army Pine Grove Camp.

The second part of Sims’s job is through the Academic Affairs office.

As part of this job, she recently gave a presentation to the faculty regarding service learning, or the integration of service into the classroom environment and educational components into service experiences.

“It’s great to see how the faculty is interested and excited to use this new pedagogy,” Sims said. “I’ve begun to see how service learning does tie in to academic goals.”

Another part of her role through Academic Affairs involved working with one of the COM 399 courses.

During that course, students must complete 60 hours of community service.

“It’s been neat to see the progression of the sudents, especially in COM 399,” Sims said. “At the beginning, a lot seemed like they were like, ‘Oh this is just something else I have to do to graduate,’ but in the end they seemed like they learned a lot about community service and had a good experience,” Sims said.

She said she thinks over the past year, the number of students involved in service and the general service community on campus has grown.

“The university is a place of learning, so it’s good to see the students learning and engaging in the community,” Sims said.

Recently, the university was approved to have a VISTA on campus again next year. After re-applying, Sims decided to return to OU as a VISTA for a second year.

“I like the work I’m doing here and I think it’s a great opportunity to develop as a young professional,” Sims said. “I have a passion for service and saw the opportunities here for the development of service learning.”

During her second year, she hopes to see even more growth in the culture of service that she has been working to develop at OU.

“I’d like to see more courses using service learning and see more people get involved with community service, as well as get those who are already involved into leadership positions,” Sims said.

Sims said service learning is becoming more and more important to the college experience for many students.

“People go to college looking for the college experience, and I think service learning is an opportunity to really enhance that,” Sims said. “They experience new population, new communities and new areas while working with a wide range of people.”

She said the benefits of service learning extend beyond college life, as well.

“They gain team building skills, communication skills, plus they’re able to apply concepts they learn in their courses,” Sims said. “They see the needs of the community, make a difference and then see the impact one person  can have on lives of others.”