Definitions and Examples

Many overlapping terms relate to our efforts to make positive contributions to our community. Service pervades many of them, and so we offer these definitions both to encourage a wide variety of community engagement efforts and to clearly define "Service Learning" as distinct from these other great endeavors. 

Also see the outwardly focused Community Engagement @ Upstate and our Categories of Community Engagement pages 

Service Learning 

Service Learning seeks deeply reciprocal relationships between faculty and community partners. Our goal here is for students to deeply explore community needs and issues through the lens of a university course. Students engage in 15-30 hours of service are expected where service contributes integrally to student learning objectives. Students' may engage in direct or indirect service, research for a cause, or advocacy for others.

Current & historical examples include:  

  • Environmental Communication (SPCH U347):
    Student research on eco-friendliness of local restaurants.
  • Introduction to Non-Literary Translation (SPAN 311):
    Professional level translation of materials for local non-profit organizations.
  • Literacy III: Addressing Reading & Writing Problems (EDRE U444): 
    Creating personalized on-level, age-appropriate reading materials.
  • Marketing Communications (MKTG 352):
    Custom marketing plans with presentations for community organizations.
  • Methods in ESOL (ENSL 353):
    Teaching/tutoring non-native speakers of English.
  • Microbiology (BIOL 330):
    Germ awareness presentation in an elementary classroom.
Service Engagement 

Service Engagement seeks to expose students to community needs through an academic lens. Under this model, students take a class that connects to need in our community and serve in the community 4-14 hours. Here, you work with a course instructor to set expectations for training, time spent, etc. Our goal is to lead students to make connections between their coursework and our community. Service Engagement often involves direct or indirect service or research for a cause.

Current & historical examples include: 

  • Archival Research and Digital Humanities (ENGL 345)
    Creation of a public library digital exhibition to share and celebrate the "Video Village" oral histories of Spartanburg's Highland neighborhood produced by White Elephant Enterprises.
  • Industrial and Organizational Psychology (PSYC 311)
    Serving with and on behalf of community organizations as we study individual and group behaviors within the world of work. 
  • Introduction to German Translation (GERM 398)
    Translation of archival artifacts (POW letters, Hitler Youth letters, propaganda materials, etc) for inclusion in the South Carolina Digital Library. 
  • Principles of Micro and Macroeconomics (ECON 221, 222)
    Collection and examination of Cost of Living Index data from various sources in collaboration with the Economic Futures Group at the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce.
Community Engaged Learning

Community Engaged Learning, like Service Learning, seeks deeply reciprocal relationships between faculty and community partners. The goal is for students to deeply explore disciplinary concepts in a community context and to meaningfully engage students in the community. No service need be involved.

A formal CE designation is now available. We offer a comparative look at our CE vs SE vs SL designations page


Volunteering focuses on meeting needs in the community with minimal commitment on either side. List your volunteer opportunity on our internal system; you set expectations for training, time spent, etc. Many times this happens through clubs, Greek life, and athletics, but we are also happy to publicize your willingness to host volunteers on an individual basis. Volunteering most typically involves direct service.

Clinicals, Practicums, & Internships

Clinicals, Practicums & Internships share many features with service learning, but differ in terms of purpose, structure, and intensity. This type of course typically encourages an intensive and individual focus on job training and networking, often with little or no interaction with classmates and most of their reflection and feedback coming at the end of the experience. In some cases, service engagement and service learning courses can prepare students for practicums and internships by providing them with less intensive community experiences which may help them refine or redirect their goals.

Community Engagement 

Community Engagement is often used as an umbrella term for the items above - as demonstrated in our unit's title: Office of Service Learning and Community Engagement. Alternately, it may describe faculty, staff, and students' efforts to make more sustained contributions to our community in the name of the University, but outside of the structure of a course or program. Many Community Engagement activities, then, center around other campus entities like Student Life, Athletics, and Alumni Relations. Our office seeks to enhance these efforts while maintaining a focus on academic implementations. Check out our Community Engagement landing page!