The Last Word
Written by: Laurie Worrall, Ed.D.

20 Years of Learn and Serve — A Celebration. A Call to Action.

Editor’s Note: Dr. Laurie Worrall was the keynote speaker at the 20th anniversary celebration of Learn and Serve Niagara. Since 2010, she has served as executive director of New York Campus Compact, an association of college and university presidents and their campuses committed to promoting active citizenship as an aim of higher education. Previous positions include dean of the McMaster School for Advancing Humanity at Defiance College, and founding director of the Irwin W. Steans Center for Community-Based Service Learning at DePaul University, where she was also a member of the founding team of the Msgr. John J. Egan Urban Center and the institutional liaison to the Illinois Campus Compact.

I congratulate Niagara University for 20 years of successful partnership activities through NU Learn and Serve! Well done! As well as a celebration, this moment is also a call to action. Our local, national, and global communities need our service more than ever.

St. Vincent de Paul, the patron saint of the order that founded Niagara, challenges all of us to go deeper in the way we serve others and society. He said, “It is not enough to do good, it must be done well.” And he demonstrated what he meant by his actions.

St. Vincent was an organizer and advocate. He leveraged his influence with the wealthy of 16th century France to garner resources to help him address the desperate circumstances of the poor. He worked to improve their living conditions. He worked for change.

So what does doing good well in the 21st century mean? Like Vincent, we must work to move from service — individual acts of charity and philanthropy — to change, change that affects systems and policies and results. A trajectory from service to change would move from individual accomplishment to community action to collective impact to systemic change. So, for example, one could start by getting involved in a food drive; then realizing food insecurity is a community issue, start a food bank. The food bank might then join a cross sector group of organizations making a collective commitment to end food insecurity in the county. The work of this coalition winds up influencing regional food distribution policies that get locally grown produce into every grocery store in the region.

So what does all this have to do with a university? One of my favorite quotes about the power of education to transform comes from Kofi Annan, the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize winner and the seventh Secretary General of the United Nations. He said, “Education is a human right with immense power to transform. On its foundation rest the cornerstones of freedom, democracy, and sustainable human development.” So if we follow St. Vincent’s call to do good well in light of Annan’s powerful statement about education, then perhaps higher education’s call involves moving from tutoring and mentoring programs to working to guarantee that all children in our local school districts graduate. Maybe it means working to prepare all of our students to succeed in post-secondary education — working for and expecting results.

Doing good well in higher education might also mean guaranteeing that all of our students understand the roles and responsibilities of an educated citizen in our troubled world. The challenges that humanity faces require deeply thoughtful, patient, and educated problem solvers. The resolution of climate change, the widening chasm between rich and poor, food and housing insecurity will all require our institutions to do good well ... to educate citizens, not just workers; to help our students move from service to change; to do good well.