Civic Engagement & Service Learning | How I Landed Here

Josh Duplantis, Director for the Center for Community and Civic Engagement at Southern Miss

Josh Duplantis, Director for the Center for Community and Civic Engagement at Southern Miss

I’d always enjoyed serving. For me, it started with a love of construction. I mean who doesn’t like to grab a hammer and a nail and join together random pieces of wood to build something? Well maybe not everyone, but I do.  It was this interest that led me to begin volunteering with Habitat for Humanity.

Following my undergraduate experience, I traveled around a bit working in the corporate sector. In the fall of 2005, I came home to assist in the recovery following Hurricane Katrina. After a year of relief work, I knew I loved two things—helping others and higher education. I was a first generation college student and had no idea what to expect when I showed up in Baton Rouge for my first day of class at Louisiana State University.


A Service Learning Education

I hadn’t planned on education beyond a B.S. (definitely wasn’t thinking PhD). But I new some folks in Auburn, AL that I’d met during my undergrad. One particular person, Elisabeth, was at Auburn. She is particularly important because I eventually married her and we now have two beautiful children. So it worked out pretty well.

In 2006 I went to Auburn to pursue my master’s in Higher Education. During my tenure there, I had a graduate assistantship in an outreach program at Auburn that allowed me to work on leadership training in rural, under-served school districts and I met a professor that was doing research on service learning, further sparking my interest and passion for the field.  

Why is it important for students (YOU) to be involved in service?

Honestly, I could go for days, but lets start with a simple list borrowed from our friends at the University of Michigan:

1. Less Stress & Depression, and More Life Satisfaction

From their analysis of collected data, Peggy Thoits and Lyndi Hewitt (2001) assert that “voluntary association membership contributes to decreased psychological distress and buffers the negative consequences of stressors (Rietschlin 1998); it increases life satisfaction and decreases depression (Van Willigen 1998).”

2. That “Feel Good” Feeling

According to an article in Current Health 1 magazine, in a recent survey by Prudential Insurance Company, the number-one reason that young people named for volunteering was that it made them feel good. Eighty-nine percent said so.

Josh with students from Delta State during their trip to Hattiesburg for Alternative Spring

Josh with students from Delta State during their trip to Hattiesburg for Alternative Spring

3. Improved Mental Health

Steven Smith (1999) indicates that ” volunteering appears to be related to longer life spans and improved mental health,” although he also notes that “…the type of volunteering is likely to make a big difference in the effects on mental health.”

4. Trust, Cooperation, and Citizenship – “Volunteerism can create social capital– that is, social networks of trust and cooperation– that can then promote greater political involvement in public affairs.” (Smith 1999)

5. Improved Communication Skills

In a 1991 article by Marty Brewster et al., various students offer their testimonials which link increased volunteerism to increased communication skills.

6. Positive Opportunities for At-Risk Youth

Many sources indicate, and indeed many organizations have been set up on the premise, that community service projects help redirect energies of at-risk youth to more positive social activities.

7. Political and Civic Awareness

An article by Steven Smith (1999) states that “through participation in voluntary associations, individuals will develop a keener appreciation for civic affairs and understand more completely their obligations to participate in the political process.”

8. Exposure to Diversity, Multiculturalism, and Different Ways of Thinking

Sandra LeSourd (1997) states “perspective taking is the intellectual ability that is germane to affirmation of differences for clarification of the public good.” This means that it is necessary to take the perspectives of others in order to truly understand the benefits that come out of differences.

9. Critical Thinking and Problem Solving Skills

According to Diane Hedin (1989), “the situations in which young people learn most are ones in which they have the opportunity to determine what needs to be done at developmentally appropriate levels of responsibility.”

Service learning really struck my interest, and I love what I do here at Southern Miss as the Director for Community and Civic Engagement. It’s a way for students to learn academic content and serve folks in the community. It brings excitement and energy to learning. It was a way to work in the higher education environment, serve my community, and help students learn the importance of doing the same.

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