Prior to his political career, U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III’s commitment to public service led him to the Dominican Republic, where he served as a member of the Peace Corps helping to design and implement an economic development project near Puerto Plata.
On Monday afternoon, Kennedy discussed that experience as the keynote speaker at the 15th annual conference of the International Association for Research on Service-Learning and Community Engagement, which is being hosted by Northeastern and held at the Boston Marriott Copley Place. Not only was he inspired by working with community members to help them gain a stake in their future, he said, but he was also moved when a man he’d never met before thanked him for the work another Peace Corps member had done decades earlier to help bring clean water access to his community.
“It is those moments, the ones that are unscripted and unexpected, that remind me of why you chose public service,” Kennedy told an audience of several hundred university faculty, students, staff, and administrators, as well as other scholars and community stakeholders. “Because it matters. Because it makes a difference.”
Kennedy said he learned how even the smallest act of service can reverberate across time, place, language, and generations. He then reflected on the recent attacks in Paris and Beirut, noting that the global community’s response to comfort and stand beside those affected represents “the bonds that service strengthens” and dovetails with the work service-learning scholars are engaging in every day.
The three-day conference is convening experts and scholars from across the country and around the world to present, discuss, and learn about the latest research in service-learning.
The mission of service-learning at Northeastern is to integrate classroom and community goals through transformative service partnerships that enrich the academic experience, inspire lifelong community engagement, and strengthen local and global communities. Next month, Northeastern will also host its Fall 2015 Service-Learning Expo, a biannual campus event highlighting the scope of the semester’s student scholarship, learning outcomes, faculty research, and community partnerships.
Service-learning is a form of experiential learning, which is at the core of Northeastern’s educational model. In welcome remarks, President Joseph E. Aoun noted that Northeastern students participate in experiential learning opportunities in 131 countries. He said service-learning experiences allow students to gain a global perspective, step out of their comfort zones, become more entrepreneurial, and, in some cases, learn from failure.
“For us, who believe in experiential education, who believe that no university can be confined to its campus, who believe that in order to learn you bring together the classroom experience with the world experience, service-learning is essential in what we do,” Aoun said.