Alison Schaeffing is director of Service Learning and Community Engagement at Sage, which means she’s always looking for ways to help students integrate community service with their course work.
The goal of Service Learning is to enrich the student learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and make living as a community citizen feel more real and meaningful.
That search for meaning and purpose was a big part of Ali’s own experience when she was a student. As an undergrad at UAlbany, for example, while majoring in Geography she got focused on issues surrounding world hunger, and also spent time in China examining the plight of poor, single women.
Later, while in pursuit of her Ph.D. in Human Geography, Ali worked at the Ministry of Education in Bangladesh, where she studied the impact and complications of a World Bank program to incentivize girls to attend high school, and developed recommendations for improving the program.
“I wanted to acquire as much knowledge and experience as I could about how to make a difference in the world,” she says.
One of the conclusions Ali reached is that many of the problems people face around the globe, like poverty and dislocation, exist locally. “Hardship is experienced everywhere, and we can make a difference right around the corner.”
That awareness drives the passion Ali feels for the Service Learning program. “What I hope our students find is, ‘I can make a difference in my world, on any scale.’” She thinks it can often be as simple and powerful as realizing, ‘I can be a good neighbor.’
On a day-to-day, practical level, Ali works with Sage professors across disciplines to design community service activities that will make a direct connection with their courses.
These community organizations might include child advocacy centers, regional food banks, boys and girls clubs, and environmental groups. There are also opportunities that might take students across the country or around the world.
“The point is to find what reveals how we change lives,” Ali says. “How we get more connected to a place. How we discover for ourselves: ‘This is a way that I can become involved.’ Because we want this to be an empowering experience. Maybe we can take what might have been an uncomfortable experience and make it inspiring.”
To do this as a career, Ali says, makes her think: “I have the best job in the world.”
She also feels lucky that she’s landed at Sage.
“I love this place,” she says. “I’ve worked at five different higher education institutions. Sage is special. Everyone cares a tremendous amount about the students. This is a strong community with incredible people.”