Engage with Mason Exchanges Service Learning Collaborations with Nonprofit Partners and Mason Community

Engage with Mason Exchanges Service Learning Collaborations with Nonprofit Partners and Mason Community
Photo By (SAIL/Twitter).

FAIRFAX, VA | February 28, 2018

On Thursday, February 22, George Mason University’s Social Action and Integrative Learning (SAIL) office hosted another Engage with Mason, first started in Fall 2017 by community based learning coordinator Shauna Rigaud.

The lunch followed with a panel discussion highlighting voices from the surrounding Mason community. There was Navarra Cannon of Northern Virginia Family Service (NVFS), Amber Duffey of Student Involvement (SI), Frank Garvey of FACETS, and Graziella McCarron of School of Integrative Studies (SIS), and Emily Swenson of Volunteer Fairfax.

The conversation presented obstacles which nonprofits face when engaging Mason students with their programs. Likewise, Mason offices (like SAIL, SIS, and SI) offered ideas on what nonprofits could do to boost efficiency with their given resources.

Ms. McCarron described that the collaborations between curricula and nonprofit organizations would require a “systems approach”. As a professor, she explained that there needs to be a level of reciprocity when negotiating programming between faculty and nonprofits. As “co-educators”, linearity in communication, awareness of students’ academic goals, and understanding of students’ capacities are important factors to recognize.

Coordinating services to a large scale of people while allocating to limited staff can be challenging, according to Ms. Cannon, community and volunteer engagement specialist of NVFS. They assist about 35,000 families each year, pursuing various services in youth development, foster care, immigration, health, and homelessness. Nonprofits like NVFS have opportunities for students to expand their understandings outside of Mason’s community. Often, such programs are overturned because there is a lack of awareness, initiative, and incentive. Because nonprofits often stretch out their financial budgets, offering paid internships and scholarships are unlikely. Students have disposable income and often do not have the physical means and time to accept an unpaid volunteer opportunity, as much as they would like to.

Offices like SAIL, SIS, and SI are working to develop more programs that offer financial incentive and the benefits of learning in an enriched environment. Right now, students can learn more about opportunities through Mason Gives Back, the Nonprofit Fellows program, and Volunteer Fairfax. Students can also directly meet with nonprofits at events like the 9/11 Day of Service Fair and the GetConnected Fair.

A nonprofit’s identity is phased with their dedication in understanding the culture within a social issue. Mr. Garvey, volunteer manager of FACETS, emphasized that there is a “need for service learning, not just service.” Active dialogue which identifies the impact of service learning is important when continuing on with such collaborations. Future initiatives with this model in mind will encourage students to be involved and invest in something practical to their benefit.

Special thanks to all the Mason faculty, staff, students, and community members for attending!