Want to Get Happy and High? Do Community Based Learning

150 150 Ellen Ensher
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LMU students present their Community Based Learning projects

LMU students present their Community Based Learning projects

This time of year sucks. I hate to complain when the weather is so sunny and perfect and yet, I do. After all, it is midterms, many of my students are sick and tired, and are sniffling and sneezing their way through the crush of exams and papers. And on top of that we are just in the beginning of the community based learning experience. At this point, for the students volunteering 15 hours at a non-profit just seems like one more thing to do. So I thought this might be a good time to remind everyone about the “volunteers high.” This is a feeling of wellbeing that people experience when they help someone else.  Martin Seligman, one of the pioneers of positive psychology, discusses how to be happy in his new book, Flourish. According to Seligman and a slew of other researchers, one of the easiest ways to get happier is to help other people.

Last year, my two classes in Managing People and Organizations donated just over 1,000 hours of service to various non-profits like Operation Gratitude, Midnight Mission, Animal Rescue shelters and so on.   I truly appreciated the students’ willingness to give of them- selves and relate their experiences to class concepts in Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management.  In the end, many students talked about how going to their placements made them feel grateful, valued, and yes, happy.

If you need some inspiration, just check out the stories and reflections from last semester. While I did not actually volunteer at a placement, I know that I experienced a second-hand volunteer’s high by just reading about their experience.

If this time of year sucks for you, consider getting your volunteer high on!

Excerpts From Selected 2013 Reflection Papers on Community Based Learning

Ellen Ensher, Ph.D, Professor of Management, Managing People and Organizations


Arynton Hardy
I believe the first and most important lesson that I was reminded of was appreciation. You can never be reminded of this concept enough, but a particular experience at the organization really made me think. While helping a girl at the club fill out her UC applications, we came to the question where she had to fill in her annual household income. I looked away but when I turned back I saw that it said $29,000. This was very humbling sight and made me appreciate the opportunities that I currently have and how hard my own parents worked to provide those to me.

Dylan Elkin

I have become great friends with one of the students who graduated from high school last year. David regularly skipped class and received less than satisfactory grades in the range of D’s and F’s. By working with David and cultivating a relationship with myself and one of the founders of the organization, Joe Killinger, David completely turned his grades around and graduated with over a 3.0 GPA and is now working and attending a Cal State University.

Jackson Hyman

The thing I liked the best about this assignment was how it allowed me to make a connection with some of the kids. One day I was outside and I hear this ten year old kid yell, “LMU SUCKS!” After telling him he can’t be talking like that, I then asked him why he said it. I later found out that he recognized me from going to LMU hockey games and watching me play. He was joking around and really looked up to people that went to LMU. Attending LMU is actually a future goal of his. I then made it a point to get him a game puck at the next game he attended.

Lauren Frederick

My favorite part of my volunteer work at the 186th Street School was the impact that I felt I had on some of the students and staff and the personal relationships that I made with them. By the end of my time working at the school, the regular Homework Club students had figured out my schedule and would often save specific homework assignments to work on with me. Other times, students would even cheer when I arrived at the school. This really had an impact on the way that I viewed my service and the way that I lead others, as I realized how visible my choices and actions are, especially with children.


Cameron Chiechi

I believe the single most important thing I have taken away is that we need to use our social status to better the lives of others. If we were to represent the world in 100 people standing in a line, almost all LMU students would be second from the front based on economic opportunity. The question is whether students will fight to be first in line or turn around and see the masses standing behind them. I have learned that I have been given an enormous gift with the opportunity to attend a Jesuit college. The most important thing I have learned is to focus on the people behind you rather than in front, and to use my talents to better the world rather than my own situation.

Roy Dilekoglu

On my first lunch-break, I sat next to an elderly man who went by the name of Brother Charles. The conversation we had lasted over an hour; we talked about everything from business to religion and even about our high school experiences. I was shocked that I had such a great conversation with someone who was in such a different life situation than me and that we had so many similar ideas and stories. At that moment, I realized that all humans are truly the same.

Andrew Setiawan

Although this assignment may be graded, to me, the grade doesn’t matter in the end. The faces of the kids I worked with were the real reward. Seeing them look for you week after week, and the constant nagging you get when you miss a week made me realize these relationships and lives we end up being a part of made this assignment worthwhile. 

Anisah Farah

By being a volunteer, I was able to see, firsthand, how people come together to work towards something that is for a greater cause without focusing on being paid or the benefits they receive out of it.

Michael Zaino

What I liked best about this assignment was having a context in which to apply the theories and concepts discussed in class. I am the type of student that learns best through practical application. Being able to see how the topics pertaining not only to Sunrise, but to everyone’s placements, was very helpful in retaining the information for use in the professional world.

Ally Weber

Something I liked the best about this assignment is that it clearly exemplified how my curriculum at LMU is aligned with the university’s prodigious mission, which focuses on educating the whole person. If it weren’t for this class, I probably wouldn’t have been exposed to and volunteered at a place like Homeboy on my own.

Marissa Slavinsky

After hearing so many different stories of where classmates did their field learning, it is obvious how much of a difference we are truly making in the lives of others. Especially at Operation Gratitude, we are continuously reminded of how much the care packages mean to those who serve. It is a rewarding feeling knowing that we can help boost positivity and feeling of belongingness in others’ lives simply by spending a few hours a day giving back.

Shaina Julian

Interacting with the residents at Sunrise gives me the opportunity to forget about everything else going on in my life, at that moment and enjoy hanging out with and helping the elderly. I might be having a bad day, but I always leave Sunrise with a smile on my face.

Lisa Piller

Back at home  (Switzerland) I never did community service and I haven’t seen that many homeless people. The experience was shocking to me. Being able to make the people feel like humans again and make them smile, makes me want to go back to Skid Row.

Chris Barnett

A lot of the world sees something they know is wrong, and do nothing about it. I see people walk by trash on the ground everyday. Everyone knows they should stop and pick it up, but very few do. To start an organization because it was the right ting to do is very admirable and courageous. After volunteering, the biggest take-away I brought home with me, was that after it was all done, I’m a better person for doing service with this organization.

Brandon Lang

My favorite part of the assignment would be the actual time spent with the students. The kindergarten class was so enjoyable to work in because the kids thoroughly enjoyed spending time with us volunteers. The way some of the students’ faces lit up when we walked in the door made the time commitment worth it. I was able to learn things about the kids’ parents, siblings, favorite activities, and other things they enjoy doing outside of the classroom. It was both interesting and cool to have the opportunity to talk to and learn from young, aspiring students who grew up in completely different socioeconomic and political backgrounds.