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UMSI Community Corps program fosters virtual volunteering across U.S.

Wednesday, 07/28/2021

One of the most important ways that University of Michigan School of Information students help cultivate the school’s human-centered information culture is through their community impact. 

When the pandemic paused in-person volunteer initiatives, 29 UMSI students continued their efforts online through the school’s new Community Corps program.

UMSI’s Engaged Learning Office (ELO), which connects students to opportunities to apply their classroom knowledge to real-world information challenges, runs a variety of in-person volunteer programs focused on mutual empowerment including Alternative Spring Break (ASB), Alternative Fall Break (AFB) and Service Week

In October 2020, ELO launched CC to connect students virtually with information-based volunteer opportunities across the country. Students and partners found the program so beneficial that it is likely the program will continue in some iteration even as a majority of in-person activities are being reinstated across campus.

The Community Corps program was designed to help students think about the impact and potential of their work and to see it reflected within their communities. These opportunities are transformational for students and also enhance the capacity for organizations,” said ELO Assistant Director Alissa Talley-Pixley.

Community Corps is a co-curricular elective focused on social-justice-oriented projects. It’s open to all students enrolled at the University of Michigan in order to encourage interdisciplinary collaboration. During the 2020-21 academic year, students from UMSI worked alongside students from U-M’s School of Public Health and A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. 

Students tackled eleven different projects ranging from nonprofit workflow to voting rights analysis. Master of Information (MSI) students and Community Corps participants, Kelsey O'Rourke and Lauren Paljusaj, partnered with the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) and the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts (MoCNA) in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The students used their information skills to assist in the migration of both the IAIA and MoCNA’s collections databases to a new database system in order to create research guides that will make the work of Native artists more accessible.

Paljusaj said, “Participating in Community Corps allowed me to exercise my skills in a meaningful way by helping the IAIA develop a way to further the reach of their archive and museum collections." 

The Community Corps cohort participated in weekly program meetings where they discussed topics like defining projects, project sustainability and current events related to technology and social justice.

Talley-Pixley noted: “we also discussed identity in order to help students think critically about how they engaged with their organization and community.”

Engaged Learning Office director Kelly Kowatch says the ELO will continue to provide students opportunities to volunteer on projects and intends to keep the Community Corps program running in some iteration in the future because it offers flexible volunteer opportunities that serve community organizations in a way that other opportunities offered through the school do not.  

“The Community Corps program allows for communities to have their information needs met in a format that is not restricted by the academic calendar or other course requirements, but still allows for skill-building and knowledge development for all parties involved,” says Kowatch.

Learn more about how to get involved in the Community Corps program.


- Kate Cammell, Writer UMSI