JEP Marks 30 Years as a Pioneering Service-Learning Program

Organization that enrolls 2,000 students a year in community projects draws praise from its cohorts.
by Sharon Stewart
With the retirement of JEP Executive Director Dick Cone, JEP Director Tammara Seabrook Anderson takes the helm.

Photo by Irene Fertik
Thirty years after it was founded, the USC Joint Educational Project is being lauded as one of the best service-learning programs in the country.

"JEP’s emphasis on developing quality partnerships, rather than focusing on quantity, is a lesson for the entire national service-learning field," said Erika Freihage Randall, director of the Cal State University system’s community service-learning program.

One of the oldest service-learning programs in the nation, JEP celebrates its 30th anniversary in February. The occasion will be marked with a special reception Friday, March 1, at Davidson Conference Center.

JEP WAS THE BRAINCHILD of the late Barbara Seaver Gardner, known for her creative ideas and community advocacy. With the help of a $1.5 million endowment from Henry Salvatori in 1994, JEP now enrolls 2,000 students a year in its programs.

USC students get involved with JEP either as volunteers, through courses that offer service-learning community assignments, or in work-study jobs with the USC Readers program, tutoring neighborhood schoolchildren. In the local public schools near the University Park Campus that make up the Family of Five Schools, they serve as tutors, mentors and teacher assistants. JEP participants design and teach "mini-courses" based on their own USC courses, or help with extra-curricular activities, including sports, languages, academic decathlon, arts and music.

JEP is known for combining education with service in a way that benefits scholars and the community, said Elizabeth L. Hollander, executive director of National Campus Compact. Headquartered at Brown University, Campus Compact is a coalition of more than 750 college and university presidents committed to the civic purposes of higher education.

"Perhaps the most significant example of how JEP has influenced the awareness of service-learning and community-based learning is through the central role it played in shaping the institutional identity of USC – such that it was recognized as College of the Year 2000 [by Time magazine] for its service and community outreach activities," Hollander said.

"This has had an enormous impact within higher education, providing a sense, nationally, of the legitimacy of community-based learning and aligning the universities with their local communities," she said.

In its programs, JEP works with faculty to design a curriculum that incorporates a service-learning component.

For example, USC psychology professor Franklin Manis collaborates with JEP in designing the set of weekly questions students in his developmental psychology course are asked after they serve as tutors and teachers’ assistants in nearby schools.

"The questions help students think about the theories in the course and relate them to what they are seeing in the field," Manis said. "In the place of writing three six-page papers, students can sign up with JEP for a sizable portion of their final grade," Manis said.

Recent USC graduate Purna Manchandia signed on as a JEP volunteer in her freshman year as a way to get extra credit in professor Steven Lamy’s Introduction to International Relations class. She quickly discovered that sharing what she had learned in class with ninth-grade students at Manual Arts High School helped deepen her thinking about the subject.

"Going out and teaching other people about a concept that you are learning in your class causes you to look at the issue in different ways," she said. "It creates this amazing dialogue and makes you feel that you are getting the most out of your university experience."

Manchandia received a B.A. in international relations in 2000. In her four years with JEP, she worked her way up to a paid position as a program assistant and later as a program coordinator. The self-confidence she gained is apparent when she talks about her current position as a legal assistant with Sullivan and Cromwell, an international corporate law firm.

"I work for a huge firm that has 600 attorneys, yet I still feel like I can make a difference," she said. "A lot of that confidence is due to my time at JEP."

Kerrissa Heffernan, associate director of the Center for Public Service at Brown University, said JEP’s service-learning model "should be held up nationally, particularly for an understanding of how community and [a university’s] institutional history are intertwined."

JEP Executive Director Dick Cone, in particular, "is regarded as a god in the field," she said. (After 25 years with JEP, Cone will retire from the university this month; see accompanying story. JEP Director Tammara Seabrook Anderson will retain her position.)

JEP’s long history and effectiveness set it apart from its imitators, said Judith Rauner, director of the Office for Community Service Learning at the University of San Diego.

"They really walk the walk by responding to the needs of the community as identified by the community."

See related article in this issue:
Public Service Guru Dick Cone Bids JEP Adieu