SERVICE LEARNING: BRIDGING THEORY WITH PRACTICE,
KNOWLEDGE WITH ACTION, CAMPUS WITH COMMUNITY
Nidal H. Abu-Zahra 1
Abstract Service learning is a teaching and learning
approach that is gaining popularity at universities across
the United States. Students, as part of an academic course,
participate in volunteer service activities that meet
community needs and enrich their understanding of specific
academic course content. In service learning, students are
performing service while learning their courses by working
in the community. In engineering, service learning has the
potential to help students gain the skills necessary for
lifelong learning and for practicing engineering in a manner cognizant of professional and civic responsibilities. By
engaging in thoughtfully organized activities that address
human and community needs together with structured
opportunities intentionally designed to promote student
learning and development, engineering students have the
opportunity to interact with highly diverse populations and
so can better develop their abilities to function on
multidisciplinary teams and to communicate effectively.
learning more about how their service makes a difference in
the lives of the service recipients. As with volunteer
programs, community service programs imply altruism and
charity. However, community service programs involve
more structure and student commitment than do volunteer
Internship programs engage students in service
activities primarily for the purpose of providing students
with hands-on experiences that enhance their learning or
understanding of issues relevant to a particular area of study. Clearly, in internship programs, the students are the primary intended beneficiary and the focus of the service activity is on student learning.
Field Education programs provide students with cocurricular service opportunities that are related, but not fully integrated, with their formal academic studies. Students
perform the service as part of a program that is designed
primarily to enhance students’ understanding of a field of study, while also providing substantial emphasis on the
service being provided. While strong intentions to benefit
the recipients of the service is evident, the focus of field education programs tend to be on maximizing the students’
learning of a field of study.
Service learning programs are distinguished from other
approaches to experiential education by their intention to
equally benefit the provider and the recipient of the service as well as to ensure equal focus on both the service being
provided and the learning that is occurring. To do this,
service learning programs must have some academic context
and be designed in such a way that ensures that both the
service enhances the learning and the learning enhances the
service. Unlike a field education program in which the
service is performed in addition to a student’s courses, a service-learning program integrates service into the
These forms of service programs were presented
pictorially by Sigmon  where each service program lies
on an experiential education continuum based on its primary
intended beneficiary and its overall balance between service and learning, Figure 1.
Index Terms Course Projects, Education Outcomes,
Service Learning, University-Industry Partnership.
A paradigm shift is taking place in undergraduate
engineering education, with the inclusion in the curriculum
of the objective of helping students develop what some have
called “softer skills.” These include team skills such as collaborative active learning; communication skills;
leadership; an understanding and appreciation of the
diversity of the students, faculty, and staff; an appreciation of different cultures and business practices; the
understanding of global engineering practice, and
understanding of the societal, economic, and...
References:  Sigmon, R., L., “Service to Learn, Learning to Serve, Linking Service
with Learning,” Council for Independent College Reports, 1994.
 Sigmon, R., L., "Service-Learning: Three Principles,” National Center
for Service-Learning, ACTION, 8, No 1, 1979, pp 9.
 Bringle, R., G., and Hatcher, J., A., “ Implementing service learning in
higher education,” Journal of Higher Education, 67, 1996, pp 221.
Ann Arbur, 1993.
Experiential Education), Raliegh, NC, 1990.
Jacoby and Associates, San-Francisco, CA, 1996, pp 3.
August 18–21, 2002, Manchester, U.K.
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