Service credits: task versus opportunity

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Service-learning Advocates: Junior Social Work major Katie Russo and Junior Violin Performance Major Lily Mackay work to encourage Service Credits. Courtesy: Cindy Montgomery

We love it, we hate it, or we love to hate it. APU students are required to complete 120 university service credits in order to graduate on time. This requirement, according to the APU website, is a direct call to one of the four cornerstones of the university, namely, “service.”

“The overall purpose of the service requirement is to encourage an active participation in serving during your time in college,” Center for Student Action Director Matt Visser said. “We believe that our faith is active, and we want to encourage a university culture where service is viewed as integral to following Christ, alongside our scholarship, spiritual formation and building of community.”

Serving should be an innate part of our daily lives. As Paul wrote in Galatians 5:13: “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.”

But in spite of the call to serve God and others, some students see the requirement as just another step on the road to graduation.They struggle to see service credits as anything but the last line on a never-ending to-do list. The real problem is not APU’s graduation requirements, but rather the real disease of American higher education: the epidemic of busyness.

“As a music major, it’s hard to find extra time to do MAS credits,” said junior music major Nicole Palafox, who cites practice time and University Choir and Orchestra commitments as some of her main priorities. “Our workload is so demanding. It’s hard to stay motivated when you’re so busy.”

APU requires 120 class units, three chapels a week and 30 university service credits per year in order to graduate. This doesn’t include internships, which are required by some majors, or extracurricular activities. Tack on school events, part-time jobs, homework and friends, and an average APU student can’t help but feel overwhelmed.

“It is really challenging to cut through the noise and all the great opportunities on campus and off-campus for students to recruit students to participate in programs,” Visser said. “There are so many great opportunities here on campus that it is hard for students to find the time necessary to invest in the quality service opportunities we provide.”

According to De Montfort senior lecturer David Robotham’s journal article “Stress among Higher Education Students: Towards a Research Agenda,” different students respond to the same workload in different manners.

“This is an important issue for it is an individual’s perception and interpretation of the demands placed upon them that causes harm, not the demands themselves,” Robotham wrote. “Events viewed as being a challenge tend to lead to positive responses (studying harder, for example), while those viewed as being a threat tend to lead to negative responses.”

In other words, a student’s perspective of responsibilities plays a large role in his or her actions. A pricey, private Christian education should provide much more than one huge to-do list, but rather an environment for students to grow and change. Perspective has everything to do with this shift.

If a student decides to see class as an opportunity to learn and engage with others, then he or she might actually enjoy this unique time in life. The possibility of an “A” grade will be less important than the enlightening conversation. Likewise, service credits can be a time to meet someone new, step outside the comfort zone of East and West Campus and broaden our understanding of the world.

Our generation struggles with entitlement, a general wallowing in pity because everyone is convinced they have the most demanding schedule. We are all guilty of playing the victim.

As Paul wrote, we are “free.” We are free from the bondage of this world, the lies that tell us success equals productivity, achievements equal worth and time equals money. Going to classes all day long to learn, participating in extracurricular activities to enjoy, working a job to earn: These seemingly tedious tasks signify our freedom, not our bondage.

As APU students we have the rare privilege to learn, enjoy, earn money and serve others.

Service credits are required, ultimately, because they gently force students to spend time investing in others. A student must question whether he or she would serve if it wasn’t a graduation requirement.

CSA offers connections with community partners such as retirement homes, environmental ministries, mentoring ministries, children’s ministries and family ministries.

“The most rewarding part of working with students in the Center for Student Action is seeing the literal life change that happens when students grasp a vision for a life of investing in others and seeking to love their neighbors, whether across the street or around the globe,” Visser said.

Earning 120 credits can be overwhelming, and might even seem unfair. Those 120 credits, however, can signify hours of growth, change and even an escape from the routine daily schedule. Perspective is key.

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