Service Learning Resources for Chemistry Faculty

Explore this website for developing or improving a service learning program in chemistry.

What is Service Learning?

Service learning is an educational program that integrates community service with classroom instruction to enhance learning, teach civic responsibility and strengthen communities. For the chemical sciences, service-learning projects can vary greatly depending on community needs and an instructor’s curriculum. Projects can include lead testing, water clean-up, or classroom assistance in an elementary school.

Benefits of Service Learning

Students, instructors, schools and the community all benefit from service-learning programs. Students learn how to interact within the community and develop a sense of social responsibility. Faculty help build relationships between the school and surrounding community. And the community benefits from the contribution of young chemists.

Student Benefits
  • develop a sense of social responsibility
  • develop communication, critical-thinking, decision-making, teamwork, leadership and problem-solving skills
  • connect what’s learned in the classroom with real-world applications
  • explore career options
  • build closer relationships with faculty
  • build closer relationships with community partners
Faculty/School Benefits
  • build stronger relationships with students
  • build stronger relationships between school and community partners
  • improve student engagement and satisfaction with courses
  • enhance student retention of relevant course material
  • provide ideas for new research areas
  • obtain internal and external funding

Key Components

There are three sets of elements that are essential in any service-learning project:

(1) Partners, (2) Curricular Connections, and (3) Learning/Civic Goals for Students.

(1) Partners

In addition to becoming actively engaged in a project, students can contribute to the development of their service activity and relevant course materials, encouraging sustained interest.
Community Partners
Community agencies are used to identify specific local needs. Both faculty and the community agency contribute strengths and assets to and benefit from the project. The most successful faculty/community partnerships establish clear methods for communication throughout the project and hold advanced discussions on specific activities, timeframe, and the role and supervision of students.
Faculty manage and oversee all academic and administrative issues, integrating specific course learning objectives into a service project that benefits all involved.

(2) Curricular Connections

Academic resources
Materials such as a syllabus, textbooks, articles, laboratory procedures, and reports are effective resources for service learning courses.
Relevant service
Service to the community should provide a real-life application of one or more specific course-learning objectives.
Critical reflection
Reflection is what distinguishes service learning from volunteer work, as opportunities for contemplation, discussion, and communication about the service experience are given throughout the project.
Assessment of student learning
Formative and summative assessment instruments provide all partners with valuable feedback regarding the learning and service outcomes, and the possibility for improvement, continuity, and sustainability.

(3) Learning Goals

Students who participate in a service learning project are expected to achieve personal growth, a better understanding of community needs, and enhanced learning of traditional courses.

Students who participate in a service learning project are expected to achieve personal growth, a better understanding of community needs, and enhanced learning of traditional courses.

How to Build a Successful Service Learning Project

For a successful service-learning project, we recommend using the PARE Model:

Preparation •Action •Reflection •Evaluation

PARE StepsWhat’s Involved?


To prepare a service learning project, faculty should:
  • identify a community to serve
  • investigate the needs of the community
  • build relationships with the community partners
  • develop a connection between course objectives and community needs
  • formulate a plan for action, reflection and assessment


Student Actions:
  • research the problem and possible solutions
  • choose a feasible solution that meets community needs and learning goals
  • create an action plan
  • implement service project, taking notes for later reflection and assessment
Instructor and Community Actions:
  • provide feedback and orientation
  • instructor arranges logistics, such as transportation, permission, and resources


For the student, reflection should:
  • take the form of a journal assignment, essay, discussion board, in-class discussion, or survey (may be done by individuals or teams)
  • be performed on a continuous basis, specifically at the pre-service, service and post-service stages.
  • be connected to learning objectives
  • challenge participants to think critically about their experience
  • be in the context of the level and type of course
  • have the potential to transform a simple project into a commitment for future action
  • be prompted by questions that push students to analyze the cause of the problem, the service experience, the learning experience, and the effectiveness of the service


It is recommended that evaluation of a service-learning project:
  • be both formative and summative
  • involve students, faculty, partnering agency, and beneficiaries of service
  • take different forms depending on the nature of the project (more than one method is advised)
  • include written reflections (sample evaluation rubric)
  • include team evaluations, if applicable
  • include an exam or skill test
  • include an attitudinal survey (sample survey)
  • include a final oral presentation, report or portfolio (sample evaluation rubric)
  • be performed before and after the service.
Here are sample guidelines to help in the evaluation of a service learning project.

Additional Recommendations for Faculty

  • Start with a small project
  • Maintain academic rigor
  • Stress critical reflection
  • Involve the community partner
  • Provide class and/or lab time for the project
  • Determine proper weight of the project in overall course grade and include it in the syllabus
  • Assign grade/credit for learning, not for service

Related Links

Community-Campus Partnerships for Health (CCPH)
CCPH is a nonprofit organization that promotes health (broadly defined) through partnerships between communities and higher education institutions. Their service-learning resources include a faculty toolkit, syllabus revision procedures, methods and strategies for assessing students, community partners and faculty.

Campus Compact
Campus Compact supports the practice of service-learning in higher education. Get resources, including syllabi from service-learning courses in various disciplines and information on how to apply for grants and funding.

International Partnership for Service Learning
The International Partnership for Service Learning offers programs for students to study abroad and perform community service in an international setting.

Learn and Serve America
Learn and Serve America is a national service grant program that funds service-learning programs in the United States. Learn about the projects they support and how to apply for a grant

Learning in Deed
Learning in Deed is a national initiative started by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to increase student involvement in service-learning.

National Service Learning Clearinghouse
The National Service Learning Clearinghouse gathers and disseminates information on service-learning. Resources include self-assessment for service-learning and recent dissertations on service and service-learning.

Learn, Serve, and Surf
Learn, Serve, and Surf is an online resource kit for service-learning practitioners. It includes links to sites that will assist in the establishment and teaching of successful service-learning courses.

University of California Service Learning Research and Development Center
The University of California Berkeley Service-Learning Research and Development Center has many resources about the University’s well-established service-learning program as well as tools for creating and assessing your own program.

Service Learning Partnership
The Service Learning Partnership is a national network of members dedicated to advancing service-learning as a core part of every young person’s education. This site contains service learning tools, resources, best practices, and a national network of service learning supporters.