Community Partners

A core value in SL/CE is respect for and reciprocity with our community partners, as the University Senate approved definition of Service Learning stipulates, we must all "collaboratively address identified community needs with a community partner." This page focuses on choosing a partner and building a healthy and mutually beneficial relationship in a service situation. The same core principles apply to community engagement partnerships with 'awareness' substituted for 'service'  

Key Definitions

A close reciprocal cooperation between parties having shared interests, responsibilities, privileges, and power

People and organizations bonded by a common interest or set of interests, geographically bounded or not. Congruously, "community" also describes the social and emotional outcome of such bonds


The establishment of a partnership with a community organization is critical to the success of your efforts. Take the time to build a relationship with your partner. What is the organizational philosophy? What are their goals? Learn about their history, their staff, and the constituents they serve. If possible, get to know previous volunteers who have served with the organization

The Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University suggests several key elements for selecting a service partner: congruence of learning and service goals, resources to orient, train, and monitor students, appropriate service activities and projects, accessibility, risk management, intercultural sensitivity, and willingness to collaborate

Graphic image of the text on the paqge
Additional topics to discuss with community partners 
  • Define and describe service learning as a collaborative effort between the University and the partner
  • Share your syllabus and learning objectives
  • Discuss options for service (avoid deficit-based terms like "needs" and "issues")
    - Evaluate the match between their goals and yours
  • Describe your students' skill level
  • Explore the timeline with the partner
    - Recognize that campus timeline differ from community schedules
  • Define communication channels
  • Clarify roles (for partners, instructors, and students)
  • Co-create a project agreement
    - Who does what, where, & when
    - Include both partner/community goals and academic goals
        [Adapted from Welch, M. (2016). Engaging higher education: purpose, platforms and programs for community engagement]
Key points to consider individually and with partners 
  1. Begin partnerships by assessing and building upon the value and importance of what each side brings to the table. Be creative as to how resources and assets are defined
  2. Find areas of common ground in terms of values and goals before defining roles and processes
  3. Join community efforts, providing resources that communities can use to develop their capacity as we build our collective strength
  4. Establish real and accessible channels of communication, and be rigorous in your dedication to comprehensive, collaborative evaluation and intentional change
        [Adapted from Seifer, S. and Connors, K. (2007). Faculty Toolkit for Service-Learning in Higher Education]


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