GW mulls semester of D.C. service

University officials are considering implementing a program that would allow GW students to live in D.C. neighborhoods outside of Foggy Bottom for a semester and earn credits through service-related work.

The “semester of service” program would invite students to live with host families in one of D.C.’s many neighborhoods where they would provide service to the community in exchange for academic credit. A group tasked by University President Steven Knapp’s to develop the University’s service efforts has submitted the initial proposal to the Board of Trustees.

Michael Akin, executive director of government, international and community affairs, said the program will “tie academic, cultural and service components together by making use of this city that (students) are fortunate enough to call home.”

GW already offers the option to earn credit for service through the University’s service-learning program that allows students to perform service for credit during their regular semester, according to a report filed with the Office of Community Service last year.

The semester of service program would differ from previous programs because it would be residentially based.

“The concept involves being an integral part of the community,” said Charles Basden, the executive assistant to the vice president of Student and Academic Support Services, who served on the group that helped to develop the proposal.

Though the idea is still in the planning stages, students would likely live in a D.C. neighborhood where they would devote time to nonprofits, advocacy groups and other organizations serving the community.

Akin added that “the service would have to complement the neighborhood in which the students are residing.”

Students participating in the program would still be taking classes during their semester of service, and Akin said the group is considering a “neighborhood-based” class concept in which students would take classes in the neighborhood in which they are living.

The inspiration for the new program came from a program launched at Xavier University in Ohio, where students can elect to participate in “academic service-learning semesters” that allow them to travel out of the country and earn credit for service performed in places like India and Ghana. Akin pointed out that the Xavier project is more analogous to a study abroad program.

The group is currently waiting for University approval before proceeding with the details and implementation. Basden described the group designing the program as “a very encouraging environment for the progress of an idea that President Knapp indicated was important.”

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