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Community-Based Experiential Education : Examples by Discipline/Templates

Use this guide to find information for service learning, community service and related topics.


In Problem-Based Service-Learning, students (or teams of students) relate to the community like “consultants” working for a nonprofit “client.”  Students work on a project that addresses a need articulated by a community-based organization (CBO).  This model requires that the students have some knowledge they can draw upon to make recommendations to the community or develop a solution to the problem.  For instance, CAD students can produce graphical representations of the development of an historic landmark, web design students can develop or update websites for CBO’s, or culinary nutrition students can do analysis to propose nutritional improvements to recipes used by a soup kitchen.

Students involved in Discipline-Based Service-Learning volunteer on a regular basis at a CBO over the course of the term.  The organization, or the type of service, are related to course content, and students reflect on their experiences on a regular basis throughout the term, using course content as a basis for analysis and understanding.  The service experience demonstrates the “real life” relevance of the course material, and it enhances student understanding of, and engagement with, the course content.

Community-Based Research is a collaborative method of research that identifies and involves the strengths, resources and affiliations of all partners (students, faculty and community) equally; combining knowledge, intervention strategies and reflection to actively solve a community problem or promote social change.  For example, an environmental science class did research that provided data for the City of Providence’s Strategic Green House Gas Reduction Action Plan to address air pollution in the Providence area.

One-Day Projects can be a great way to get all or most of your class involved with service and either introduce or reinforce related course concepts. The key is to pick a project that makes sense for the learning outcomes in your course. Some one-day project examples include: Environmental Science students doing a waterfront clean up and collecting water samples for testing, Culinary Leadership Studies students cooking meals at an event to feed homeless veterans or Sports, Entertainment & Event Management students helping to coordinate a charity road race.

Site Visits -- Counseling Psychology students in the Introduction to the Helping Professions course pick one of five site visits that vary from two to eight hours in length. They attend information sessions and shadow professionals in the field. Sites have included Day One, Trinity Academy for the Performing Arts, Ocean Tides, The Providence Center, and Friends Way.  Students learn about the various professions and issue areas important to the field of Counseling Psychology.  Students share the experience with their classmates through in class reflection and group presentations.

Nonprofit Internships are credit-bearing (4.5 to 13.5 quarter credit hours), term-long, discipline-related work experiences for individual students at a university-approved community site.  The student works at the organization under professional supervision and is supported by an Experiential Education Coordinator and a faculty advisor to ensure that the student is able to achieve Ex Ed outcomes and industry-specific, course objectives. It may be paid, unpaid or partly paid in the form of a stipend.  In 2013-2014, 213 students completed nonprofit internships, providing 84,645 hours of work.  Internships sites included public and private schools; government agencies, police departments and courts; universities, hospitals and nursing homes; advocacy groups, museums and domestic violence shelters, among others.   While most of the internship sites were in Rhode Island and southern Massachusetts, some students completed internships at nonprofit organizations in Louisiana, Oregon , New York, Florida and Washington, DC.