Service-Learning & Volunteering

STEM Faculty Service-Learning Resources

Service-Learning is a high impact practice that identifies projects from not-for-profit organizations in the community, finds how those projects are related to courses, and designs projects centered on student learning and community serving objectives to create engaged learning experiences that allows opportunities to apply learning in new, different, and refreshing ways.

STEM coursework is incorrectly seen as less conveniently setup for the integration of service-learning into the curriculum as compared to the liberal arts. The purpose of this page is to provide resources for STEM faculty interested in incorporating this kind of practice into your curriculum.

STEM Service-Learning

Service-Learning at USM follows a wide variety of formats and some courses are designed to completely embed the service work into their course, while others apply it as a solo project within the scope of the course. 

Faculty interested in designing a new course or making some changes to implement this practice may consider the current pathways that have been utilized by faculty at USM, some examples at USM, and external resources that may provide more information. Contact Samantha Frisk if you would like to setup a consultation on starting, designing, or supporting a new service-learning integrated course. Grants are available depending on funding sources. CTEL offers grants supporting courses that will have a community-engaged portion of an eService-Learning course and Maine Campus Compact renews its grants for Campuses for Environmental Stewardship every few years. New faculty will be provided support on an as-need basis from the full-time STEM Partnerships Coordinator, staffed by an Americorps VISTA member.

STEM Service-Learning Pathways

  • Offer engaged learning by working with existing programs on campus.
    1. Faculty can work with STEM Ambassadors as alternatives to various course projects, as extra credit, or for grade exchange.
      1. Focus: Educational Outreach
      2. Pros: Easy to implement, no additional work by the faculty, students are trained and gain skills in facilitation, learn more about their kit's subject over the course of 6 weeks, and gain confidence in working with large groups from grades 4 through 8.
      3. Cons: The kits and lessons conducted by the student(s) may not be correlated to the coursework
    2. Faculty can work with STEM Sisters or local science fairs as alternatives to various course projects, as extra credit, or for grade exchange.
      1. Focus: Community Outreach and Impact, Design and Production
      2. Pros: Easy to implement, student develops an idea related to their course and interests, and offers engaged learning experiences to female high school students for three asynchronus days. 
      3. Cons: Rigor of the lessons will need to be judged by the faculty through reflection activities and plan reviews, which may require added work from the faculty member.
    3. Best for: Faculty new to service-learning and for courses that would like to test the service-learning module or provide the option for students in their classes.
  • Create a project or assignment which requires students to identify community partners to meet specified learning objectives
    1. Faculty should target a specific assignment, correlated to a course topic or not, and specifically design a project that has specific learning targets for students to develop their project around. Through this method, faculty are laying out expectations and outcomes, and students determine how to meet those outcomes.
      1. Focus: Educational Outreach, Design & Production, Consultation, Community Planning, Background Research, Community Outreach and Impact 
      2. Pros: Allows students to think about their course in a different way, and requires students to exercise different skillsets which are not 'curated' by the professor. Students are given room to be creative and the open format promotes self-directed learning
      3. Cons: Faculty may spend less time up front 'designing', but may need to enlist support to continue to guide students in helping to procude community partners and come up with project ideas. Faculty will need to be intentional about how they check the students' design plan through checkpoints or rubrics that will maintain a high level of topic rigor.
    2. Best for: Faculty new or have some experience with service-learning and are able and would like to support students in a different way.
  • Develop partnerships that form the backbone of an integrated service-learning focused curriculum
    1. Faculty will build or tap into pre-existing relationships with community members who have projects that can be interlaced into the course. Faculty must design the curriculum to offer specific deliverables to the community partner.
      1. Focus: Educational Outreach, Design & Production, Consultation, Community Planning, Background Research, Community Outreach and Impact  
      2. Pros: Projects are fully integrated into the course, such that all modules or topics can be applied to the project as the semester progresses. Students get to know the project, community partner, and organization in a thorough manner, and have great skill development in professional soft skills.
      3. Cons: Flexibility from community partners is key and projects must be able to conform to the semester timeline. A reperatoire of community partners must be established as community partners may not always be able to provide projects. Continued communication with the community partners must be had in order to sustain the project throughout the semester.
    2. Best for: Faculty that have experience with service-learning and has organizational expertise of the field/topic.

BIO 281/311 Microbiology for Health Sciences / MIcrobiology

Format: Direct Service, Semester Project

Description: BIO 281/311 students spend the semester identifying topics of interest from the course material and beyond to develop curriculum and engaged learning activities to reinforce learning objectives through “learning by teaching” methodologies. Students identify community partners in the K-12 community throughout Maine individually, or with support from faculty/staff at USM. These collaborations supports skill building in professional communication with community members, allows students to learn and apply practices to apply their course material in a different way, and develops skills in presentation and facilitation, building individual confidence levels.

Past Community Partners: Learning Works, STEM Expo, Science Bowl, AfterSchool, Portland Public Schools, South Portland School District, Gorham School District, Boys & Girls Club, Portland Public Library, and more.


CHY 233 Analytical Chemistry

Format: Direct Service, Solo Project

Description: High school students tour the USM campus and visit the chemistry lab, guided and mentored by CHY 233 students through lab exercises and expose high school visitors to a college level chemistry experience. This collaboration allows students to articulate their understanding of science safety and experimentation to a different audience, supporting their course learning objectives, and gain experience in coordinating and working with community partners on a new level.

Community Partners: Portland, Deering, Casco Bay, Bonny Eagle, SOuth Portland, Gray-New Gloucester, and Gorham High Schools


EGN 301 Junior Engineering Design and the Engineering Profession

Format: DIrect Service, Semester Project

Description: For design projects with a focus on educational outreach, students work with community partners from the area K-12 community to design, plan, and build a lesson and associated materials and devices to teach engineering concepts. These collaborations supports student learning with a deliverable of service to the K-12 educational economy, enriching it with student driven engineering learning modules -- a part of STEM that is not directly touched upon in K-12 education systems. Students also apply their learnings from 3 years of coursework into this project, collaborating with other engineering disciplines and working in teams to effectivey work with a class-size of students.

Community Partners: Gorham High School, Gorham Middle School, Scarborough Middle School, Hall Elementary School, Deering HIgh School


EGN 304 Engineering Economics

USM Engineering students seeking real-life efficiencies at the Portland Public Library

Format: Indirect Service, Semester Project

Description: Using a client/consultant service model, EGN 304 students work in teams on projects designated by facilities directors and managers in non-profit organizations throughout the Southern Maine region. Through the semester, students meet their clients, develop project plans, create GANTT charts, conduct financial analyses, perform research on energy alternatives, and generate recommendations for the client community partners, culminating in a final presentation to the community partner clients. Utilizing these projects, students apply economics analysis skills on these projects to achieve their learning objectives, practice professional communication and presentation, and develop an understanding of pro-bono work as an integral part of their future as engineering professionals.

Community Partners: Cape Elizabeth Schools, Windham-Raymond School District, Portland Public Schools, Gorham Schools, Westbrook School Department, South Portland School Department, Scarborough Schools, Portland Public LIbrary, Southern Maine Heathcare, Goodwill Industries of Northern New England, MaineHealth, and University of Southern Maine


ESP 303 Wetlands Ecology

Portland 5th-graders learn about water quality at Capisic Pond

Format: Direct Service, Semester Project

Description: ESP 303 students work on and develop mini modules on cattails, water quality, and insect life in local Maine wetlands. Their work culminates in a joint field trip with ESP 303 students and students from a Longfellow Elementary School 5th grade class at Capisic Pond in Rosemont. The field experiences allows students to articulate their learnings with a new audience, apply their theory and understanding in a local setting with community members.

Community Partners: Longfellow Elementary School


ESP 401 Environmental Impact Assessment and Lab

Format: Indirect Service, Semester Project

Description: Using a client/consultant service model, students form groups and identify a community partner, usually a public agency, organization, or utility as their primary client. ESP 401 students develop a job plan of their environmental impact assessment of the client’s provided project, conduct site visits, map the project area, collect and analyze field data and observations, and determine impact mitigation and make recommendations for the client. Their work and conclusions are presented to the clients at the end of the semester. Through these collaborations, students develop skills in project and team management, learning and gaining knowledge of local organizations and government agencies, and apply their course learning objectives on practical projects in the local area, effectively building students’ skills in professional interaction and communications with local community partners.

Community Partners: Varies

Campus Compact Resources - Course Syllabi from Higher Education Institutions

Campus Compact is a national coalition of colleges and universities, supporting initiatives of building democracy through civic education and community development. This resource page contains hundreds of syllabi from various disciplines that incorporate service-learning into their courses.

Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities (SENCER)

SENCER is an approach to improving science education and provides resources and a national network of how undergraduate STEM education can extend learning beyond the classroom and offers ideas for doing just that.

Maine Campus Compact

Maine Campus Compact, the campus compact USM belongs to, is the local state coalition in Maine. They support service-learning practices in colleges and universities in Maine and have in the past helped STEM courses develop their service-learning components through development support and mini-grants. View their video for the Campuses for Environmental Stewardship.