From “Making the Grade 2014: Working together for the future” featured in The Berkshire Eagle
By John Sakata, Berkshire Eagle Staff
PITTSFIELD — It didn’t take long for Erin Breen to land a job in which she could give back to her community.
Thanks to Berkshire Community College’s Service Learning program, the 23-year-old Adams resident was helping Berkshire United Way increase literacy among elementary school children before she’s even received her associate degree this fall.
Breen volunteered at the Berkshire United Way in the fall of 2012, landed an internship, and turned that volunteer work into a full-time job as a resource development assistant.
“I really enjoy going into the community and working and putting my knowledge to use,” Breen said.
BCC and other colleges aren’t wishfully hoping students give back to their communities — rather they’re incorporating community service in the educational curriculum.
At Berkshire Community College, pending faculty approval, the students can substitute coursework with community service through the college’s Service Learning program. There have been as many as 100 students who have taken up the option, according to BCC’s Service Learning Coordinator Mary Parkman.
They can receive a grade on their work, which can range from 10 percent to 25 percent of their grade, she said.
Students majoring in business communication have created PowerPoint presentations for nonprofits, while engineering students have taught elementary students to build and control robots.
First-year students at Bard College at Simon’s Rock in Great Barrington, the early liberal arts college that accepts students in the 10th and 11th grades, has students participate in a program that emphasizes community service.
Through the Active Community Engagement program, the college’s 160 students are required to choose one of three classes, including a class centered around participation and service. Bard College students have volunteered at the Medical Reserve Corps, Special Olympics, and campus and community cleanups.
“It’s an important shift that’s happening in the state and BCC and we are focusing our service on civic engagement and developing projects that are focused on civic engagement,” Parkman said.