The service learning program was developed by USD community service staff, faculty, and student teams who attended California Campus Compact “Summer Institutes”. Faculty members were committed to infusing service-learning into their courses, but expressed concern about the added time commitment. A spring 1994 pilot project generated faculty interest and identified some strategies that worked and others that did not. The faculty/student leader team approach evolved, with expected outcomes being student development and generating collaborative assistance for faculty. From the beginning of course based service-learning, a faculty mentor received one course of reassigned time to co-facilitate faculty seminars with the program director and to provide support for faculty who were incorporating service-learning for the first time.
Judy Rauner, PhD, director of the program from 1987–2002, had conducted research on the impact of service-learning leadership on student development. The positive outcomes for these student leaders stimulated interest in student leaders being integral within the course-based program. Student leaders in the study changed their understanding of leadership, from the traditional top down approach to dimensions of leadership "as occurring when an individual engages and influences collaborators in reciprocal learning relationships to develop a mutual purpose and work together toward intended change." (Rauner, 1995) They identified skills that developed, including more effective communication, problem solving, and time management. Their perceptions of self and awareness of others expanded, plus stereotypes were confronted. Influencing others included student leaders becoming advocates for service and recruiting new leadership. Awareness of social issues, causes contributing to inequities, and the challenges that institutions have in addressing community needs became strong focuses.
University of San Diego’s course-based service-learning program formally began in 1994 with support from a “Learn and Serve” grant from the Corporation for National Service. Since then, over 150 courses, from a broad spectrum of disciplines, have included the component and 100 do so on a continuing basis. Depending on the nature of the course, students may all be engaged in one particular project, but in many others the students have options of four or five different placement options.
The Mulvaney Center includes many avenues for service in addition to course-based service-learning, all of which depend on student leadership.