Service Learning

Community engagement pedagogies, often called service learning, are ones that combine learning goals and community service in ways that can enhance both student growth and the common good. In the words of the National Service Learning Clearinghouse, it is a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility and strengthen communities.

Why it matters?

When students work in the community, they are able to put a name and a face to social issues they learn in the classrooms. Students begin to define their role in the community in relation to these names and faces; they begin to define their role within the context of public service and civic responsibility.

In recognition of the service and engagement of our faculty, staff, students, alumni and community partners, NIU was awarded the following prestigious awards:

As a student participating in service learning, you contribute your time, energy, and unique talents to nonprofit organizations, schools, and government agencies in ways that help to meet their community needs. In return, you gain valuable experience and skills that will advance your professional career. The service experience may be connected to a specific program, NIU course or academic major.

Why Service Learning?

Educational Benefits

  • Positive impact on your academic learning
  • Improves your ability to apply what you have learned in “the real world”
  • Improved ability to understand complexity and ambiguity
  • Stronger relationships with faculty

Personal Benefits

  • Greater sense of personal abilities, identity, spiritual growth, and moral development
  • Greater interpersonal development, particularly the ability to work well with others, and build leadership and communication skills

Social Benefits

  • Reduced stereotypes and greater inter-cultural understanding
  • Improved social responsibility and citizenship skills

Professional Benefits

  • Connections with professionals and community members for learning and career opportunities
  • Lead to greater networking opportunities

Service-learning Opportunities

Service-learning may take various forms, depending on how closely the service experience is related to the student's academic program:

Academic Service-Learning

A teaching method that combines community project and experience with instruction as it focuses on critical, reflective thinking and civic responsibility. Service-learning programs involve students in organized service experience that addresses local needs, while developing their academic skills, sense of civic responsibility and commitment to the community.

*Definition adapted from Campus Compact, a national coalition of college and university presidents that is dedicated to promoting civic engagement and service-learning in higher education.

Why Service-Learning?

  • Satisfaction with the quality of student learning
  • New avenues for research and publication via new relationships between faculty and community
  • Providing networking opportunities with engaged faculty in other disciplines or institutions

Faculty Fellows

NIU's two-year fellowship program, Service Learning Faculty Fellows, provides faculty with an opportunity to serve as ambassadors for our service-learning pedagogy. Learn more about the benefits of participation, eligibility and how to apply to the Faculty Fellows program.

Resources and Support

Our office supports university faculty from across all colleges and majors in creating service-learning opportunities for students by integrating meaningful community engagement into their college courses.

The services we offer faculty include:

The Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning invites community organizations and agencies to partner with the NIU campus by actively engaging students. Community agencies and organizations may request NIU service-learning students for long-term (generally one academic year or semester-long, 2 to 8 hours per week, per student) service opportunities, and/or for one-time/short term projects. Students may come to the agency/organization through NIU service-learning courses, academic majors/programs, student groups dedicated to service or as individual service-learning volunteers.

Why partner with the university?

  • Introduce a sense of social justice in the students and correct any misconceptions about the project or people you are helping
  • Build and enhance relationships with the university faculty and students can that be utilized for future networking or partnership opportunities
  • Gain new volunteers needed to aid in the achievement of your organization’s goals
  • Valuable human resources needed to achieve community goals
  • New energy, enthusiasm and perspectives applied to community work

For more information about best ways to partner with Northern Illinois University please contact Jennifer Groce in the Office of Community Affairs at

Contact Us

Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning
Altgeld Hall 100

Business Hours

Monday - Friday
8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.