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Service Learning

Service Learning &

Alternative Breaks

Western Oregon University’s student-led and student-driven Service Learning and Alternative break program provides students and faculty/staff advisors with the opportunity to immerse in hands-on community service in local and global communities. Through service, participants develop cultural awareness, build leadership skills, and engage in the advancement of social justice.

Opportunities are offered during Winter, Spring, and Summer breaks.




Interested in Serving as An advisor?

Please complete our Advisor Interest Form

Email servicelearning@wou.edu with any questions

Alternative Break Trips


The Alternative Break program exposes WOU students to hands-on community based learning during a 7 day period occurring during the first week of Winter Break or Spring Break to locations within a 10 hour radius of Western’s campus. There is a commitment fee that students are required to pay ($150) and the rest of the trip is paid for by team fundraising. (Advisors’ costs are included in the team budget and no individual out-of-pocket costs are associated.) Participants have the opportunity to work with other WOU students, faculty and staff to increase self-knowledge and to broaden their perspective of the world around them. The emphasis of trips is working in conjunction with non-profit agencies to focus on a wide variety of social issues; these issues have included literacy, poverty, racism, hunger, homelessness, HIV/AIDS, and sustainability. Being completely immersed in diverse environments enables participants to experience, discuss, and understand social issues in a significant way.


Advisor’s Role

  • Attend weekly team meetings
  • Support fundraising efforts
  • Drive 12 passenger van during trip
  • Responsible for funds during trip
  • Share your observations/suggestions with your student leaders.  “I noticed the team really seemed down after the host agency did not provide the tools they promised for us to get the job done right.  Is there a way we could debrief this during the reflection time tonight?”
  • Offer your help as appropriate.  “Please let me know if there is anything I can do in preparation for tonight’s reflection time.”
  • Bring in a global perspective to discussions and/or teachable moments by asking questions or sharing observations.  “What are differences between the neighborhood we are sleeping in and the neighborhood where we are working?”
  • When asked questions… “The construction supervisor asked me to cut this triangle piece of sheet rock, how should I measure and cut the piece to make sure it fits?”  Seek input and/or opinion from the person who asked the question before providing the answer.  “What are your ideas?” or “What would be the best way to approach it?”
  • Engage with the group!


Insights from a former advisor

  • It is a very rewarding trip that you will come back refreshed and exhausted at the same time
  • Need to be in a position to dive right back into classes or work after break- you will not have much down time but the time away from “usual tasks”, as well as the energy of the trip and students is rejuvenating
  • Be able to plug into the group after the group has bonded
  • Be comfortable with being a team member and not leading or taking charge unless you are needed in emergency situations
  • Reach out to all students on the trip and spend time cultivating individual relationships, as well as fostering group cohesiveness
  • Support the student leaders and let them lead – empower them to make the decisions. They should be the ones that other students go to first for decisions/info, not you
  • Be okay with a role difference of not leading and being responsible for the group, you are there for support and to help handle larger emergency issues, day to day things need to be handled by the student leaders
  • You are team member, relax and go along for the ride in most ways.
  • Encourage students to make own decisions and to go to student leaders if students come to you as the “in charge person” on the trip.
  • Bring an air mattress and get good sleep!!!

(Written by Dr. Lauren Roscoe, Alternative Break Advisor, Spring 2005)


What is Service Learning?


Volunteerism: Students engage in activities where the emphasis is on service for the sake of the beneficiary or recipient (client, partner).

Internship: Students engage in activities to enhance their own vocational or career development.

Practicum: Students work in a discipline-based venue in place of an in-class course experience.

Community Service: Students engage in activities to meet actual community needs as an integrated aspect of curriculum.

Community-Based Learning: Students engage in actively addressing mutually defined community needs (as a collaboration between community partners, faculty, and students) as a vehicle for achieving academic goals and course objectives.

Service Learning: Students engage in community service activities with intentional academic and learning goals and opportunities for reflection that connect to their academic disciplines.






Best Practices

Eight Principles of Good Practice for All Experiential Learning Activities

Regardless of the experiential learning activity, both the experience and the learning are fundamental. In the learning process and in the relationship between the learner and any facilitator(s) of learning, there is a mutual responsibility. All parties are empowered to achieve the principles which follow. Yet, at the same time, the facilitator(s) of learning are expected to take the lead in ensuring both the quality of the learning experience and of the work produced, and in supporting the learner to use the principles, which underlie the pedagogy of experiential education.

  1. Intention: All parties must be clear from the outset why experience is the chosen approach to the learning that is to take place and to the knowledge that will be demonstrated, applied or result from it. Intention represents the purposefulness that enables experience to become knowledge and, as such, is deeper than the goals, objectives, and activities that define the experience.
  2. Preparedness and Planning: Participants must ensure that they enter the experience with sufficient foundation to support a successful experience. They must also focus from the earliest stages of the experience/program on the identified intentions, adhering to them as goals, objectives and activities are defined. The resulting plan should include those intentions and be referred to on a regular basis by all parties. At the same time, it should be flexible enough to allow for adaptations as the experience unfolds.
  3. Authenticity: The experience must have a real world context and/or be useful and meaningful in reference to an applied setting or situation. This means that is should be designed in concert with those who will be affected by or use it, or in response to a real situation.
  4. Reflection: Reflection is the element that transforms simple experience to a learning experience. For knowledge to be discovered and internalized the learner must test assumptions and hypotheses about the outcomes of decisions and actions taken, then weigh the outcomes against past learning and future implications. This reflective process is integral to all phases of experiential learning, from identifying intention and choosing the experience, to considering preconceptions and observing how they change as the experience unfolds. Reflection is also an essential tool for adjusting the experience and measuring outcomes.
  5. Orientation and Training: For the full value of the experience to be accessible to both the learner and the learning facilitator(s), and to any involved organizational partners, it is essential that they be prepared with important background information about each other and about the context and environment in which the experience will operate. Once that baseline of knowledge is addressed, ongoing structured development opportunities should also be included to expand the learner’s appreciation of the context and skill requirements of her/his work.
  6. Monitoring and Continuous Improvement: Any learning activity will be dynamic and changing, and the parties involved all bear responsibility for ensuring that the experience, as it is in process, continues to provide the richest learning possible, while affirming the learner. It is important that there be a feedback loop related to learning intentions and quality objectives and that the structure of the experience be sufficiently flexible to permit change in response to what that feedback suggests. While reflection provides input for new hypotheses and knowledge based in documented experience, other strategies for observing progress against intentions and objectives should also be in place. Monitoring and continuous improvement represent the formative evaluation tools.
  7. Assessment and Evaluation: Outcomes and processes should be systematically documented with regard to initial intentions and quality outcomes. Assessment is a means to develop and refine the specific learning goals and quality objectives identified during the planning stages of the experience, while evaluation provides comprehensive data about the experiential process as a whole and whether it has met the intentions which suggested it.
  8. Acknowledgment: Recognition of learning and impact occur throughout the experience by way of the reflective and monitoring processes and through reporting, documentation and sharing of accomplishments. All parties to the experience should be included in the recognition of progress and accomplishment. Culminating documentation and celebration of learning and impact help provide closure and sustainability to the experience.

Source: 8 Principles for Experiential Learning Activities, National Society for Experiential Education. Presented at the 1998 Annual Meeting, Norfolk, VA


"The AB trip was an incredible experience of giving and learning. It was wonderful to see how the team pulled together and how much of a difference people can make. I encourage students and faculty to get involved - you will not forget it ..." (Montrose, Colorado 2005)

Dr. Lauren Roscoe

Psychology Department