What should be the role of higher education in national community service? Tulane University President Scott Cowen posed that question to Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service
, and her answer hit close to home: “Take the Tulane University model all over the country.”
In a visit to the uptown campus in conjunction with the Tulane National Service Fair, Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, praised the university’s culture of engagement. (Photo by Cheryl Gerber)
Cowen and Spencer spoke on Tuesday (Feb. 18) at a luncheon held prior to the start of the second annual Tulane National Service Fair in the Lavin-Bernick Center. The Tulane Center for Public Service
sponsored the events.
When it comes to developing a culture of public service on campus, Tulane has set a high standard. Some other universities “have this culture, but you’re sort of on steroids,” Spencer said.
“If there were Olympics for national service, Tulane and New Orleans would be the gold medal winner,” she told the audience of students, current and former AmeriCorps members and Tulane staff.
Spencer heads the CNCS, a federal agency that engages more than five million Americans in service through its core programs including AmeriCorps and Senior Corps. She also leads President Barack Obama’s national call-to-service initiative, United We Serve.
Since the Tulane AmeriCorps VISTA program began in 2006, it has had 112 members of that program serving the New Orleans community, a federal investment of $2.4 million, she said.
One lesson from the Hurricane Katrina experience, Spencer said, is the important role of volunteers in making a community stronger. “You have shown the country how national service can be a part of long-term recovery.”
Making a national service commitment also can lead to career direction, said panel member Jonathan Skvarka, who was a Tulane AmeriCorps VISTA member after Hurricane Katrina and worked his way up to become executive director of the nonprofit Rebuilding Together New Orleans
Spencer said such assignments “force you to serve with people different from you. As a result, you become a stronger leader. That is an asset to an employer.”