Steering students in right direction

ECU student Kimberly Chadwick steers a kayak down the Tar River in Greenville. Chadwick had worked through ECU service-learning connections to develop a kayaking educational tour in the community. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)

By Joy Holster and Kathy Muse

East Carolina University senior Kimberly Chadwick followed a path from campus straight down Fifth Street toward the Tar River, where she guides kayak tours for teenagers through a community service program she created.

The journey began with a homework assignment in philosophy class. That assignment connected Chadwick with the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation, which led to a long-lasting volunteer relationship and finally, the chance to foster the Youth Kayaking Program.

The path that Chadwick followed was service-learning, a powerful educational opportunity offered outside the classroom at East Carolina University.

ECU students are gaining knowledge through service-learning activities that apply classroom training to real-life settings in the community. The service-learning path often contains surprising twists and turns, leading to unforeseen benefits for the students and the community they serve.

Crucial to the mission

“Service is a part of our identity and culture at East Carolina University,” said Virginia Hardy, vice chancellor for Student Affairs. Service-learning benefits the community, in keeping with the university’s mission of service and its motto, “Servire.” At the same time, Hardy said, the experience builds students’ leadership skills, which is a critical component of the university’s emerging role as the leadership university.

“Service-learning allows for the university to have an impact on the region and to strengthen communities. It encourages partnerships between communities and the university,” Hardy said. The experience provides a mutual benefit for all who participate, she said – the students, the community and ECU faculty and staff.

Beyond course requirements

Jessica Gagne Cloutier, service-learning coordinator at ECU’s Volunteer and Service-Learning Center, said that ECU students logged more than 15,000 hours of service in the 2010-11 academic year, with more than 2,400 students reporting service hours.

Some of those hours were class requirements, Cloutier said. But completing the required hours does not guarantee a good grade. Faculty award academic credit based on how well students master specific learning outcomes connected to the service-learning activity, she said.

In some courses, faculty members select community partners and assign tasks. In others, students select partners based on personal interest. The VSLC supports service-learning in the curriculum through established partnerships with more than 100 agencies, Cloutier said. “We identify course-appropriate partnerships, share best practices, lead reflections and provide assessment materials,” she said.

Cloutier said students quite often connect with service agencies and continue service “well beyond their original course requirement. What starts as a simple assignment can lead to innovative new practices or programs that improve the quality of life in the community and lead to potential internships, part-time and even full-time positions.”

“Students can also build valuable community networks, gain experience to grow their resume, explore professional environments and potential career paths, leverage their passion for good, and develop leadership skills and abilities,” Cloutier said.

Hardy said service-learning helps students gain empathy, appreciation for diversity and a different perspective on community and social issues. At the same time, she said, they develop critical thinking skills while applying classroom knowledge to real-life situations.

Pursuing a passion

Kimberly Chadwick experienced these benefits through her experience in service-learning. “My perspective and knowledge base has widened, making me more confident to face the world. Community service is a bridge to the bigger treasure – the community,” she said.

Chadwick’s assignment with the PTRF required her to complete a needs assessment
and develop a project that addressed the needs discovered. She created a survey system and display to increase awareness about poor water quality and ways to protect the river.  The class was philosophical and current issues in leisure, offered through the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies in the College of Health and Human Performance.

“My involvement with the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation was initiated by the class, but I continued the program because I felt passionate about it,” Chadwick said.

Then with the assistance of Kelly Jochim, the foundation’s development coordinator, Chadwick had a chance to foster a program that reflected her personal interests. She created the Youth Kayaking Program.

“I am a true advocate for youth wellness,” she said. “I feel that it is my mission to aid the next generation by teaching community awareness, teamwork, and leadership skills while promoting recreation to decrease obesity rates.”

She ran the first two-hour kayaking tour this summer with three staff members and four paddlers aged 12 to 14.

Before getting in their boats, participants from Ayden, Washington, and Raleigh, received a lesson in safety. Chadwick discussed navigation, proper paddling positions and specific stroke techniques to avoid shoulder injury.

She taught the paddlers how to respond to her directions “If I notice unsafe waters ahead, I will hold my paddle up and down but slightly to the left, to signal that participants behind me need to travel to the left around me,” she said.

Since the water levels were high, the group ventured into smaller creeks where they met other watercraft.  “I believe that when students interact with other navigators, they improve their social capital and increase the likelihood that they will paddle the river again,” Chadwick said.

“One of our goals is to get more children interested in playing and protecting the Tar River and its watershed,” Chadwick said.

Community engagement

Chadwick has volunteered since middle school. She has completed volunteer work with Pitt County Memorial Hospital; Million Meals; Give to the Troops; Relay for Life; and the Marley Fund, which aims to decrease the spread of Feline Leukemia. For the RHA Howell Center, Chadwick created a sensory garden that allows medically fragile children and children with disabilities the opportunity to see, smell and touch the plants they grow.

“Volunteering has opened so many doors for me,” Chadwick said. “I have been exposed to many environments, learned numerous skills and acquired multiple resources.”

She was honored for her volunteer work this spring through the ECU Service in Excellence Award, in a rare double nomination from both the PTRF and the Howell Center. 

Chadwick is a parks and recreation major, with a second major in aquatics management. Originally from Chalfont, Penn., she has lived in Greenville for 10 years. She will graduate in May 2012.


For additional details about the kayaking program, contact Chadwick at or call the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation at (252) 946-7211. For more about service-learning, contact the ECU Volunteer and Service-Learning Center at 252-328-2745 or e-mail


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