Katelyn and Veronica Ambrosio were 5 years old when their family moved into Chesterbrook Gardens, a community housing facility located just a few miles from the Bentley University campus in Waltham, Mass. Every academic year, students from the Bentley Service-Learning and Civic Engagement Center (BSLCE) arrived twice a week to mentor, tutor and inspire them and fellow youngsters.
For the twin sisters, the experience went well beyond a typical after-school program.
“My experience at Chesterbrook has shaped me to be the person I am today,” says Katelyn. “It’s where some of my best childhood memories came from.”
It also allowed them to envision college in a way they never expected.
“Some of these Bentley students became a part of my family,” Katelyn says. “Seeing so many different Bentley students walk through that door allowed me to see a different aspect of college that I would have never seen before.
“I got to see what made them choose Bentley, and why they decided to give back to kids in the Waltham area,” she adds. “It gave me the impression that Bentley isn’t only focused on making students business-focused, but also that the Bentley Service–Learning and Civic Engagement Center focuses on making the students passionate leaders in society as a whole.”
FROM CLASSROOM TO COMMUNITY
Service–learning has been a vital part of the Bentley experience for more than 25 years. Each year, more than 1,000 students participate in intensive service opportunities at 60 community partner sites. BSLCE works with over 100 faculty across disciplines, who offer embedded and for-credit academic service–learning opportunities through their courses, and BSLCE oversees an innovative student leadership model to drive our programs forward.
In addition, BSLCE offers a variety of co-curricular civic engagement initiatives to the campus and community, including an annual Fair Trade Fair, the BUIILD project, an Alternative Break Habitat trip, and strategic consultancy to local nonprofits.
Besides developing key skills, participants develop the valuable civic skills employers seek, and gain a new series of connectedness with the world beyond campus.
“Service–learning at Bentley is uniquely positioned in that it’s classroom to community and back to classroom,” says BSLCE Director Jonathan White.
AN EYE-OPENING EXPERIENCE
Katelyn, a Finance major with a minor in Law, and Veronica, an Economics-Finance major also minoring in Law, knew that service–learning would be a part of their time at Bentley.
“Service–learning was something I grew up doing, and I knew wanted to continue it because I wanted to be a mentor to kids like the Bentley students were for me,” says Veronica.
“Service–learning changed my life and I wanted to be able to make an impact on the city that I grew up in,” adds Katelyn. “I wanted to inspire kids with similar backgrounds and show that college is possible for them.”
Today, they work at another community housing facility (in order to give their younger brother space to live his own adventure), tutoring and mentoring children from grade school through middle school. Their experiences vary depending on the child and what they need: help with math, reading a story with them, or just someone to talk to.
“My experience has been eye-opening,” Katelyn says. “I’m on the other side now — I am the role model the kids look up to. Every semester I get to see how the kids have grown and how much they have learned from working with the Bentley students every week.”
“It’s been so much fun,” says Veronica. “I love getting to see the kids every week. It’s something I always look forward to. I enjoy building friendships with the kids on site, too.”
INNOVATION THROUGH LEADERSHIP
Service–learning at Bentley is more than what happens on site, though. Students are involved in every step of the process.
“We innovate through student leadership,” says White. “We have 140 students on staff who come up with our programs, who come up with our processes, and then move us forward to do great things.”
For most students, it’s a chance to connect their education to the bigger world, to lead by sharing their gifts. For the twins, it’s also allowed them to pay the transformative experience of their childhood forward, lending a hand to a new generation of Waltham children and showing their peers what kind of difference they can make.
“The skills I learn from my classes can be used to make an impact on society, says Katelyn. “I’ve learned to be adaptable when faced with different situations, and to speak up more and be confident in my ideas. My leadership skills have also improved.”
“Growing up through the Chesterbrook program, I got to know so many Bentley students who supported all the kids inside and outside of school,” adds Veronica. “They were all great mentors to have as a kid, and I knew I wanted to be just like them because they cared about us so much. No other university close by has something similar to this, and that was really important to me.”