In this post, I consider Lesnick and Cook-Sather’s (2010) proposition that we recognize student-faculty partnerships as a form of service learning through its promise to develop and enhance civic engagement and civic capacity on university campuses. Undoubtedly, service learning is one of the high-impact practices sought out and adopted by many higher education institutions in the US, among them Elon University. Academic Service Learning (ASL) fulfills Elon’s Experiential Learning Requirement as it “engages students in real-life settings, working on community issues to connect classroom learning with societal issues.” At Elon University we understand service learning as an opportunity for civic engagement highlighting our responsibility towards the larger community in which we live and work, acknowledging our connectedness with this community and addressing its concerns and needs. According to Elon’s strategic plan (2009) “[s]trong civic engagement and service learning programs are the hallmark of an Elon Education” (p. 3).

While service learning is highly valued high-impact practice at Elon and many other higher education institutions in the US and internationally, it is also almost exclusively conducted outside the college campuses. Service learning experiences almost always require that students go outside of college campuses to engage with community partners. Consequently, as Lesnick and Cook-Sather argue, “the literature on service learning does not commonly focus on college campuses themselves as sites of community building” (p. 10). The authors propose that we reconsider our understanding of service learning and community civic engagement as the practices carried out outside the limits of college campuses and consider the potential of student-faculty partnerships to develop civic capacity on university campuses, acknowledging that there is an opportunity for students to serve and learn within their limits, as well as a possibility to transgress the traditional institutional hierarchies. Lesnick and Cook-Sather define civic capacity as “1) the capacity of members of the campus community to access their own and one another’s knowledge and experience as they work together to meet individual and common educational goals and 2) the capacity of the institutional leadership to support this process” (p. 2-3). They argue that student-faculty partnerships can help build such civic capacity on university campuses.

In fact, student-faculty partnerships offer students, faculty, and staff (when they are involved in partnership) an opportunity to step out of their traditional roles, the roles “beyond the often isolated, narrow, and hierarchical functions,” to engage in developing and achieving shared goals and addressing each-other’s needs (p. 5). As the authors state, “it enables persons in different roles to enrich each other’s learning within and outside of the classroom, to discern connections between classroom-based and co-curricular learning, and to recognize the continuum of work and study” (p. 5).

Lesnick and Cook-Sather recognize and welcome the change that this type of relationship between faculty, students and staff will bring about on college campuses. They state that student-faculty partnerships require that we reconsider our traditional understanding of inclusion and exclusion, of who gets to teach and who does not, of the roles that we all play within the higher education structures. They also argue that student-faculty partnership model is “bidirectional” and stands in contrast to the “sometimes unidirectional emphasis of community service” (p. 5).

In the end, if we think of service learning as an opportunity for students to develop partnerships with a larger community and an opportunity to connect learning with experience and work, student-faculty partnerships could be an excellent way to achieve both. Through partnership, students, faculty and staff engage in a dialogue trespassing their traditionally prescribed roles, connecting with each other and building larger community within the university campuses. In addition, students get to participate in the decision making on their own learning methods and content being active and more responsible learners and teachers.


Ketevan Kupatadze, Senior Lecturer in Spanish in the Department of World Languages and Cultures, is the 2017-2019 Center for Engaged Learning Scholar. Dr. Kupatadze’s CEL Scholar project focuses on student-faculty partnerships.

How to cite this post:

Kupatadze, Ketevan. 2018, June 7. Student-Faculty Partnership as Service Learning. [Blog Post]. Retrieved from