Willamette University one of six nationwide recognized with presidential service award

Willamette University is one of only six colleges and universities nationwide to receive the Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll Presidential Award, the highest federal recognition a college or university can receive for its commitment to service-learning and civic engagement.

Willamette was one of three recognized in the focus area of helping youth from disadvantaged circumstances through service programs that lower school dropout rates and prepare students for college.

Willamette students, faculty and staff dedicated more than 66,000 hours to service during the 2008-09 academic year, with almost 23,000 service hours spent on programs assisting disadvantaged youth.

"At Willamette, civic engagement is a core value that is reflected by the actions of our students, faculty, alumni and staff," said Larry D. Large, interim president. "Willamette students affect many lives through service, and it teaches essential lessons about one's own character and about our shared responsibility for each other."

Willamette was honored for many programs, including:

  • Students begin engaging in the university's culture of service during the New Student Orientation to Community Outreach, a five-day orientation program for incoming students. Activities include cleaning Oregon beaches with SOLV, painting transitional shelters for women and children, assisting seniors at the United Methodist Retirement Center, cooking dinner for homeless youth, painting playground equipment at A.C. Gilbert's Discovery Village and much more. 
  • Willamette students created in-class and after-school education and mentoring programs at Bush Elementary School, where 84 percent of students are enrolled in the free or reduced lunch program. Students from Willamette created the Tiger Club, in which teachers provide a curriculum designed to help children catch up to district and state standards in math, science, reading and writing. During the 2008-09 academic year, Willamette students assisted almost 1,400 hours during class or after school.
  • Through a partnership with Chemawa Indian School, about 25 Willamette students each semester work with Chemawa peers to tutor 150 students per week. The program includes shared social, cultural and educational activities between the campuses. Anthropology Professor Rebecca Dobkins teaches a weekly class to the student tutors on the history and challenges of contemporary American Indian education, providing them with the opportunity to learn from and with the Chemawa students. Students from Willamette have also partnered with the Chemawa school for a significant wetlands restoration project that will include culturally significant plants used in medicines and weavings. 

  • Willamette students mentor and tutor participants in Willamette Academy, a college-access program for historically under-represented youth and their families. The academy provides each participant with the equivalent of 117 additional classroom days during the five-year program, and academy parents also participate in workshops geared toward supporting students' success in college. All academy participants have graduated from high school, and 93 percent attend colleges across the country, including Willamette.
  • As part of the Language in Motion program, international students and study abroad returnees share language and culture through presentations to local schools. Last year, 875 students participated at six schools and three after-school programs.

  • In the student-run Take a Break program, students spend spring and winter breaks serving in communities across the country. They have helped New Orleans residents rebuild after Hurricane Katrina, painted houses on Native American reservations and worked with Chicago youths living in poverty, among many other projects. In Oregon, students worked on trail maintenance at Cape Perpetua and assisted homeless people through community organizations in Portland.

The university will accept the award, including a signed certificate from President Obama, next month at the annual American Council on Education conference in Phoenix, Ariz. Learn more about service at Willamette through the Office of Community Service Learning.