Program Milestones

1992: In the Beginning . . .

In the fall of 1992 James McClelland, a student at Northern Michigan University, began the NMU Volunteer Center as his Community Service Internship (CSI) project for the Student Leader Fellowship Program.  This was accomplished with the help of a small grant.  Prior to this, two short-lived “volunteer center” initiatives had been attempted.  James’ project took off and was “institutionalized” when it was adopted by the Student Activities and Leadership Programs Office (now the Center for Student Enrichment).  Today, the NMU Volunteer Center has three student staff members and sponsors 10-12 major “events” every year, in addition to placing well over 100 student organizations and thousands of students in the community every year.  James McClelland is and should be proud!

Academic service learning at Northern Michigan University began inauspiciously in the mid-90ss when a few faculty members in the Social Work Department contacted the NMU Volunteer Center and asked for assistance in placing their students in some social work settings for 15-20 hours during the semester.  These faculty members then held periodic class discussions on the experiences that students were having in their placements.  During this same time, Dr. Thomas Kromer, an earlier practitioner of service learning at Central Michigan University, visited Northern and made a presentation to academic deans and department heads and spent some informal time with interested faculty. 

2000-01: A Major Step Forward

Under the direction of Dr. Rodney Clarken in the School of Education, Leadership and Public Service, Northern Michigan University participated in a successful consortium grant request with Eastern Michigan University, Central Michigan University and Western Michigan University.  Grant funds were provided by Learn and Serve America.  Early efforts centered on training faculty in the School of Education, Leadership and Public Service who in turn educated student teachers in the art of teaching through academic service learning.  Fourteen sub-grants were awarded to area K-12 school districts to support academic service learning projects.

2002-03: Expanding Campus-Wide and Institutionalizing Academic Service Learning

As the Learn and Serve America grant entered its third and final year, two goals were set forth:  to begin expanding academic service learning out of the School of Education, Leadership and Public Service to the larger campus, and to take steps to institutionalize academic service learning.  Towards this end, 11 faculty members were given stipends to attend a seminar series on academic service learning.  Focus groups with 22 faculty members and several deans and department heads were conducted in order to determine the level of interest and support required to expand academic service learning at Northern Michigan University.  Faculty pointed to the need to have a physical location and staff available to assist with the administrative and logistical components.  As a result the then-Student Activities and Leadership Programs Office was identified as the administrative unit that would house the program.  Staff in this office were asked to partner with a faculty liaison and an Academic Service Learning Advisory Board consisting of faculty, academic deans, and a few other staff members.  By moving administrative responsibilities out of a particular academic department, it was hoped that it would be easier to engage other departments.

In  winter 2003, a survey of academic service learning activity was developed and conducted by Dr. Robert Kulisheck of the Political Science Department and John Mallo, a graduate assistant in the Student Activities and Leadership Programs Office.  The survey revealed that there were 85 courses in 35 content areas with ASL characteristics. While some of these met the academic service learning criteria, many were lacking an element, with the reflection component being the most prevalent.  Still, the level of activity was a reason for optimism.

2003-04: Seminars, Seminars, Seminars

Dr. Kulisheck assumed the role of faculty liaison and chair of the Academic Service Learning Advisory Board.  A hallmark of this year was excellent seminars.  From Tuesday, February 10, to Thursday, February 12, 2004, Dr. Dale Rice from Eastern Michigan University met with 30 faculty members, the ASL Advisory Board and several university administrators.  Dr. Kulisheck presented to 27 faculty members and 6 staff members on October 15, 2004, with the topic being “Relating Theory to Practice.” 


Student Activities and Leadership Programs staff assisted the Communication Disorders Department as they revised their curriculum to include ASL activities. The department had the opportunity to be the first department at NMU with ASL activities infused appropriately throughout their course offerings.

Student Activities and Leadership Programs staff facilitated the development of an ASL web page.

Several outside sources indicated that NMU was one of the schools that was demonstrating real progress with ASL.

2005: Promotion and Tenure

In the spring of 2005, Ray Ventre (English) from the American Association of University Professors and Jim Cantrill (Communication and Performance Studies) from the Promotion and Tenure Review Committee had a discussion with the ASL Advisory Board confirming that academic service learning activity could be included by faculty in promotion and tenure materials.  Dr. Wally Niebauer (Communication and Performance Studies) shared academic service learning materials at the meeting that he had successfully used in attaining both tenure and promotion.

2005:  Changes and Advances . . .

In February, Dr. Robert Bringle, a noted practitioner and researcher in the academic service learning field from Indiana University/Purdue University at Indianapolis, was on campus for two days of seminars and meetings with faculty and key administrative staff.

Charles Ganzert of Communication and Performance Studies, took over the faculty liaison and chair of the ASL Advisory Board position from Dr.Kulisheck in a seamless manner, continuing to provide excellent leadership.

A most exciting development was the decision to fund and implement Superior Edge, a groundbreaking university initiative that tracks student participation in four “edge” areas – leadership, citizenship, diversity and “real-world” experiences.  Academic service learning is a featured component of Superior Edge with students being able to count ASL experiences in either the citizenship or real-world edges, and on occasion for the leadership or diversity edges as well.  Superior Edge provides a tremendous framework for academic service learning experiences and a valued bridge between in- and out-of-classroom experiences.

2005: Back in Michigan Campus Compact

Northern Michigan University was a charter member of Michigan Campus Compact, but dropped its association after several years. In the fall of 2005, NMU rejoined MCC and has experienced positive results. Two faculty members have received $6,000 Brighter Futures grants and over 75 NMU students have enrolled in the Michigan Service Scholars program, where they can receive a $1,000 educational grant in exchange for 300 hours of community service.  Several seminar sessions have been presented by MCC staff.  It has also proven beneficial to again be a part of a state-wide network.


Academic Service Learning content was designated in the course catalog. NMU developed its own ASL manual. Eastern Michigan University’s manual was used previously. The Academic Service Learning Advisory Board approved the following definition and criteria for academic service learning: 

Academic Service Learning is a course-based, credit-bearing educational experience in which students:

  • participate in an organized service activity that meets identified community needs; and

  •  reflect on the service activity in such a way as to gain further understanding of course content, a broader appreciation of the discipline, and an enhanced sense of both personal values and civic responsibility.


To have an ASL designation, classes must include the following five common elements:

  • Community partners or agencies must be involved in the planning of the service projects.

  • There must be a clearly conceptualized connection between course objectives and service activities.

  •  Service projects must enrich the learning experience.

  •  All parties involved in the service projects must benefit.

  •  There must be time built into the syllabus for formal active reflection, which enables students to synthesize and derive new meaning from their experiences.  Examples would include activities such as directed writings, small group discussions and class presentations.

2006-07: A Breakthrough Year for Academic Service Learning . . .

A number of significant advances occurred during the 2006-07 academic year.

  • University funds were made available to provide ten $500 faculty mini-grants for academic service learning projects.
  • A university-wide definition and criteria for academic service learning was agreed upon.
  • A procedure was established for identifying courses with academic service learning content and designating them as ASL courses in the course bulletin.
  • An academic service learning faculty development manual was written and distributed.
  • The academic service learning Web page was revised.
  • Three conference presentations were made at the 11th Annual Service Learning and Civic Engagement Conference held at Schoolcraft Community College in Livonia, Mich., on Feb. 8-9, 2007:
    • “Enhancing and Institutionalizing Academic Service Learning:  Integrated Planning Plus a Little Dumb Luck” – Kathleen Thompson (professor, Nursing), Paul Duby (associate vice president for Institutional Research), Dave Bonsall (director of the Center for Student Enrichment), Gavin Telfer (graduate assistant, Superior Edge), and Sara Barclay ( graduate assistant, Center for Student Enrichment).
    •  “Reflection, Youth Voice and Assessment:  Sustaining Rigor and Relevance in Service Learning” – Dr. Kathleen Heikkila (associate professor, Education)
    •  “Service Learning From a Distance: Pairing Universities with Local Governments” – Sandra Poindexter (professor, College of Business)
  • Robert Kulisheck (professor, Political Science, and former chair of the ASL Advisory Board) and Dave Bonsall presented a session entitled “Extending Academic Service Learning Across the College Curriculum” at the National Service Learning Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on March 29.

2007-08:  Present Times . . .

The academic service learning program has  considerable student interest in serving abroad (NMU’s international student volunteer organization had 80+ members last year).  In cooperation with the International Programs office,  a spring break and a summer service trip to Peru is being created.  We are also supporting a summer course in Honduras where students will work in a health class providing basic health care and health information.

The number of ASL course designations increased from previous years. Twenty-eight courses were identified with the ASL tag for the winter semester, 8 for the summer session and 21 for the upcoming fall semester.

On Friday, Oct. 19, 2007, a “Breakfast with Bob” session was conducted and it and a subsequent workshop attracted 41 faculty and staff members.  “Breakfast with Bob” was conducted to honor Dr. Robert Kulisheck in his last semester of employment for his considerable contributions to the growth and development of ASL at Northern Michigan University.  It was also an opportunity to hear some reflections and words of wisdom from Bob.  A highlight of the program was the description of some phenomenal academic service learning projects by five of Bob’s “friends” in attendance:  Eileen Smit (Nursing); Dwight Brady (Communication and Performance Studies); Ron Sundell (Geography); Joe Lubig (Education) and Elizabeth Monske (English).  Some excerpted comments that pretty much sum up the reasons for advocating academic service learning were: 

  • Academic service learning is an opportunity for faculty to showcase student growth – it highlights what their students have learned.
  • ASL makes learning fun.
  • Working on ASL projects develops student-to-student and student-to-teacher camaraderie.
  • ASL has inspired the School of Education, Leadership and Public Service to look at changing a requirement from “observation” to “authentic experience” hours.
  • A nursing ASL experience in Honduras has “changed the students forever.”
  • ASL projects can lead to employment opportunities.  A Communication and Performance Studies ASL project that involved filming the UP 200 Sled Dog Race resulted in one of the students being hired by ESPN.  The video produced by this class also was key in helping the UP Sled Dog Association obtain private support for the race to maintain its downtown start.

We feel very confident that if institutional support can keep up with the rapid expansion of academic service learning, volunteering and emerging civic engagement opportunities, citizenship education can be a distinguishing feature of the college experience at Northern Michigan University. The willingness of our faculty, the nature of our students and the quality of our surrounding communities are tremendous assets. 


During the 2009-2010 academic year, 69 courses and 112 sections received the ASL course designation. The number of course designations increase significantly from the 2008-2009 academic year with nine more courses and 24 more sections receiving the ASL designation. Forty-nine faculty members and adjuncts from 17 academic departments taught ASL designated courses. This was nine more instructors than last year and brought the total number of ASL practitioners on NMU’s campus to 69.

ASL made inroads into two new areas. Two ASL courses were taught in biology, a hard science area, which has traditionally been difficult for ASL to break into. Two First Year Experience sections also received the ASL course designation.

The ASL Advisory Board hosted Coffee with the Community, a workshop aimed at helping agencies to discuss the service-learning opportunities available for their classroom.

Joe Lubig, Charles Ganzert, Dave Bonsall, Derek Anderson, Paul Duby and Katie Stelmaszek made five presentations about their involvement with ASL and civic engagement at “The Institute: Service Learning and Civic Engagement” conference.