Megan (right) with Morgridge Center for Public Service Director Kathy Cramer at the 2015 Be the Change Banquet

How one Service Learning course changed my life

by Megan Miller

As a first-semester freshman at UW-Madison I was naive and wide-eyed. Before moving to Madison I spent my whole life in a small Wisconsin city. My best friends were people I knew most of my life, and my graduating high school class was 183 students.

Although I was excited for a change, Madison felt huge. Being on my own for the first time, I struggled to navigate this new place. The entirety of my first months as a Badger was spent walking from the dorms to Ag Hall to Camp Randall. Aside from perhaps a dinner on State Street or an evening at an older friend’s apartment, I’m not sure I made it off campus once.

And to be honest, I’m not sure I would have made it off campus my second semester either, had I not inadvertently registered for a Service Learning course. Like me at the time, you may not know that Service Learning courses require students to support a community organization, often through volunteering, for a minimum of 25 hours throughout the semester.

This one Service Learning course completely altered my University of Wisconsin experience. It took me off campus to Glendale Elementary School in Monona where I read books and worked on literacy projects with second graders. The lessons I learned in class about civic engagement, community-building, and leadership directly related to the work I was doing on site at Glendale. My time off campus also got me thinking about what it truly means to build healthy and happy communities and opened my eyes to new parts of Madison I was eager to explore.

My awareness grew regarding how much the community of Madison benefits from having a world-class University in town, but even more so how much UW students have to learn by spending time in their off campus community. I can’t begin to imagine how different my time as a Badger would have been had I not taken a Service Learning course my freshman year.

Because of that course, I continued to volunteer after the class ended. The Morgridge Center for Public Service at UW-Madison supported me in my Service Learning volunteering by providing transportation for me to get to and from my site. I went on to complete an internship at Glendale and ultimately got a student job as an after-school program leader where I made some of my closest college friends.

After I learned about the Morgridge Center, I got involved in student orgs that had a service focus. My participation in these organizations helped me land my first job out of college as an AmeriCorps*VISTA working on the Schools of Hope tutoring project. I later went on to coordinate the Morgridge Center’s Badger Volunteers Program and now work as the Assistant Director of Civic Engagement at the Center.

On my first day in the Service Learning class, when I learned I needed to find somewhere to volunteer for 25 hours, I never would have thought it would lead me to where I am today. I would encourage anyone considering taking a Service Learning course to go for it! There’s more to Madison than State Street and Camp Randall. Who knows where you might end up?

Megan Miller is the Assistant Director of Civic Engagement and Communications at the University of Wisconsin — Madison’s Morgridge Center for Public Service. In her role, Megan manages several Morgridge Center programs and events including Transportation Options, Public Service Fairs and Walk the Walk. She also supports communications.