Service-Learning Alumni Survey
We conducted a on an online survey about the service-learning experiences of recent Kalamazoo College alumni in the summer of 2007. We wanted to gather information to 1) evaluate the effectiveness of our programs from the perspective of student learning, 2) discern the future direction of service-learning and civic engagement at K, and 3) collect stories about our programs to share with our constituencies: Kalamazoo College community (faculty, staff, & students), prospective students and their families, the Kalamazoo community, national service-learning organizations, and grant-makers and funders.
We administered the Alumni Service-Learning & Civic Engagement Survey to approximately 1100 Kalamazoo College alumna/e - for whom we had current and working email addresses (1,112 total) - from graduation years 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, & 2007. We used the electronic survey tool, Survey Monkey, and 268 people responded to an email request to participate, resulting in a 24.1% response rate.
We recognize that respondents are self-selected; that is, that those who chose to take the time (about 20 minutes) to answer survey questions were motivated to do so by some aspect of their service-learning experience that non-respondents probably were not, and that those who responded have opinions about their community engagement that they wished to share. Between 1998 and 2007 – the years that the respondents were enrolled at K -- about 30-45% of all K students were involved in some sort of service-learning or civic engagement.
Nevertheless, the data reveal/we learned the following:
1. Over two thirds of respondents feel that it has been important to be involved in social or political causes
2. Almost one third of respondents indicated that they are still students/working on another degree
Overall, alumna/e feel that being involved in service-learning and/or civic engagement initiatives contributed to their Kalamazoo College education – and over three quarters (78.7%) of the total 268 respondents were involved in some type of civic engagement activity at some point during their four years at K. As shown in the chart/ table below, at least 75% of the respondents agreed with the statement that their experience with service-learning and/or civic engagement helped them: work collaboratively with fellow students, faculty, and/or community partners(69.1%); gain knowledge of races and cultures different from their own (59.3 %); get to know the Kalamazoo community in general (58.6%); develop interpersonal skills (64.1%); develop better communication skills (59.7%); and tolerate ambiguity and unfamiliarity (56.3%). However, less than 20% agreed that their involvement in s-l and/or civic engagement helped them choose a major.
Just over a third (35.6%) of respondents reported that when arriving at K, being involved in civic engagement, community service, and other civic activities were important to them, while nearly two-thirds (60.3%) of respondents reported that since graduation, it has been important to them to be involved in social or political causes.
Alumni reported that some of the most important things they learned as a result of their involvement in service-learning and/or civic engagement included getting along with people from different backgrounds, effective communication skills, recognizing injustices, effectively solving problems, critical thinking, patience, the importance of being civically engaged in the community in which you live, open-mindedness, and active listening skills (see Appendix D for more detailed responses).
Respondents said that as a result of involvement in service-learning and/or civic engagement they gained knowledge, skills, and attitudes such as developing a sense of community, the ability to lead and mentor others, advocacy skills, language skills, initiative, listening skills, civic responsibility, and the ability to collaborate (see Appendix B for more detailed responses).
In addition, 70% of the respondents reported that they were either very satisfied or satisfied with their Kalamazoo College experience.
Selected quotes from the alumni survey:
"Being involved in service learning activities made me feel like I made a difference in the community. As a black student I believe these activities helped me "survive" and actually enjoy the K experience. There are days at work when I lose motivation and I think something is impossible...but then I remember all the difficult, but great things that I managed to do while at K and it makes the task at hand seem manageable."
"My service-learning experiences at K College helped me see my natural leadership qualities and my passion for community organizing around social justice. I can confidently write on volunteer applications that since 2000 I have been engaged with people who are different from me. It started with my Intro to Sociology project at the Ministry for Community. Every year since then I have worked with a community service agency of some sort in four different cities."
"I think that the most important thing I learned from my service-learning was to be willing to see the world from more than one point of view, and to be able to incorporate different viewpoints into your own paradigm in a way that makes you better than you would have been otherwise."
"My service-learning experience has also shown me what is missing in many of these types of activities that I have been involved in since graduation - that is, an intentional component to not just learn about the greater social injustice, but to empower people to act and change some of the roots systems creating that injustice. This is by far a more challenging and long-term task, but nevertheless fundamental to what I believe is the basis of both the service-learning and civic engagement movements."
"My service-learning experiences were the single most important aspect of my education. I love K, and appreciate the high standards set for students, but it's the service-learning aspect that, for me, sets apart and above other schools. It's the knowledge and dedication of the service-learning staff, their commitment to service and learning that makes all the difference."
"The service learning component of my class on "Culture, Nationality, and Religion" allowed me to interact with members of the Muslim community in Kalamazoo. As someone who is half Middle Eastern but also raised Catholic, I have always felt connected and yet separated from the American Muslim community. Being able to spend time with them and begin to understand the role that Islam plays in their lives has helped me to be much more tolerant of religious differences and intricacies in my daily life."