Niagara University was recently named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for the sixth consecutive year. The honor roll is the highest federal recognition a school can achieve for its commitment to volunteering, service learning and civic engagement.
U.S. News & World Report ranks Niagara among the top 24 institutions in the nation in terms of offering students a wide range of service-learning opportunities. In that study, NU was selected as one of only two schools in New York state(Wagner College in Staten Island was the other)to be distinguished for outstanding programs aimed at enriching the students' experience.
That being said, we do not plan to rest on our laurels.
In fact, less than two weeks after the latest results were released by U.S. News & World Report, we announced the opening of Niagara University’s new Institute for Civic Engagement. An initiative developed through my office, the institute formalizes Niagara’s commitment to the region. Under the direction of Dr. David Taylor, it will strengthen NU’s existing community partnerships and form new town-gown relationships, while serving as the university’s primary point of contact for community members and organizations. (You can read more about Dr. Taylor and the institute here.)
As Niagara alumni and friends, you know that our commitment to serving others, especially those most in need, comes from our mission as a Catholic and Vincentian university. Through the teachings of St. Vincent de Paul, we consider it our responsibility to teach students about the challenges and causes of poverty, and we support activities where our students reach out with compassion to serve people’s basic needs.
It is this vision that drives our faculty, staff and administration to incorporate service into everything that we do as a university. Once it is determined that students have a firm grasp on subject matter, they are encouraged — required, in many cases — to carry this new knowledge with them into their communities, thereby enhancing the living environments of their neighbors.
Examples of this unique approach to learning can be seen across campus. NU’s relationship with the Heart Center of Niagara at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, for instance, has helped student and faculty researchers to more effectively diagnose and treat coronary heart disease, the primary cause of mortality in Niagara County. Construction of the B. Thomas Golisano Center for Integrated Sciences will only amplify these partnerships, making Niagara a key player in discovering new knowledge related to society’s most pressing challenges.
Of course, the life sciences comprise just one of the many areas where our students are making a difference. The strong liberal arts foundation offered at Niagara allows the young men and women entrusted to our care to lead lives of responsibility and integrity regardless of their major. In 2011 alone, NU students contributed more than50,000 hours of service in more than 40 social service agencies and organizations across the globe.
The important, lasting piece from these service-learning opportunities is the students’ reflection on what they have accomplished, and how it relates to classroom topics and broader world issues, as well as their own faith. It is critical that our students understand why they are performing this service, how it impacts those they are serving and the extent to which their efforts are part of a greater cause to make this world a better place to live – for everyone. And all of this is part of Niagara’s desire to always live out its mission, and to be faithful to its Catholic and Vincentian traditions.
I am always interested in hearing your ideas on how Niagara University can expand its service-learning opportunities. Should you have any thoughts on this topic, or anything else, please feel free to contact me at email@example.com.