College shares service learning with Hong Kong delegation


Aquinas College in Grand Rapids is a Catholic liberal arts school, founded in 1886. Photo via

A college is sharing its best practices on implementing service learning into coursework and degree programs with a delegation from a Hong Kong university.

Hong Kong to Michigan

Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a Catholic liberal arts school, will host a delegation of 17 members from Lingnan University tomorrow at the Grace Hauenstein Library to discuss service learning and community engagement. The event is not open to the public.

Lingnan University is a public liberal arts school in Fu Tei, Hong Kong and can trace its roots back to 1888 in Guangzhou as the Christian College in China, according to its website.

Representatives from Lingnan University will visit seven other schools as part of a week-long stay in the state: Alma College, Michigan State University, Albion College, Kalamazoo College, Olivet College, Hope College and Calvin College.

Dr. Kathy Kremer, dean of curriculum and associate professor of sociology at Aquinas, said the program was created by Michigan Campus Compact after Lingnan University contacted the nonprofit. Michigan Campus Connect is a coalition of academic institutions committed to developing personal and social responsibility in their campus missions.

“Colleges and universities in Michigan, Michigan Campus Compact, are really a step ahead of schools in other states, and so their coming to Michigan doesn’t surprise me,” Kremer said.

An "obligation"

“As a liberal arts college, it is our obligation to disseminate the lessons we have learned to other institutions,” Kremer said. “Community and service are part of who we have been for 126 years, so spreading the word to other institutions about how we implement that in our classroom is really an obligation. We will provide them a brief introduction to the college and our commitment to service. Then, what we really want to focus on are five examples that illustrate how this works.”

Aquinas also expects to upload materials from the event to a Google site, allowing Lingnan University administrators and faculty access to information and resources from the college.

Kremer said the hope is to have Aquinas faculty post additional information in the future to give the Hong Kong-based university a continuing resource long term.

Service learning programs

During the discussion with the delegation, professors from various departments will explain how service learning and community engagement are incorporated into coursework, determining how to grade the student service and how they help students fully understand educational concepts.

Aquinas will examine several models: Spanish students tutoring at Cesar E. Chavez Elementary in Grand Rapids; tax preparation clinics through the West Michigan Collegiate Partnership provided by accounting students; a social entrepreneurship program in business administration, where students work with community organizations in Malawi; and a reading clinic and literacy tutoring in the education department.

“We know that community engagement is a practice that deepens the learning that occurs for students,” Kremer said. “For example, it provides for students the relevancy of what they are learning. We call it service as text. Meaning, instead of reading about it, they do it, and then they come back."

A "high-impact" practice

Kremer added that American Association of Colleges & Universities developed a list of what are considered to be high-impact practices in education, and “community engagement is one of the high-impact practices.”

According to the article “High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access to Them, and Why They Matter” by the association in 2008, several practices can help increase the rate of student retention and engagement: first-year seminars and experiences, learning communities, writing-intensive courses, undergraduate research, service and community-based learning, internships and more. 


Aquinas College was founded in 1886 by the Dominican Sisters of Grand Rapids and said it has an “overriding culture” of community engagement and service.

The President’s High Education Community Service Honor Roll recognized Aquinas College in 2013 for its commitment to volunteering, service and community engagement. 

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