Below are some answers to our more Frequently Asked Questions.


When can I sign up for a position?

Fall 2008 positions are currently available.

I volunteered a couple of semesters and I’d like to get a record of my service. What do I need to do?

Email and provide Your Name, your last semester of attendance at MSU, and your mailing address (or indicate if you’d like to pick it up in our office. Please put REQUEST RECORD OF SERVICE in the subject line.

Please Note: Requests made Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday will be available to pick up or will be mailed out on Friday of the same week. Requests made Thursday or Friday will be available to pick up or will be mailed out on Wednesday of the next week.

Can I get credit for volunteering?

The Center for Community Engaged Learning is not authorized to give credit for your service-learning experience(s). Please see your advisor well in advance to arrange an independent study. One of our staff members will be happy to meet with you regarding a service-learning site that may be suitable for you, however, the initial arrangements must be made with your advisor.

If you find that your issue is not addressed on this page, please feel free to contact us at 517-353-4400 or email us at

Community Engaged Learning FAQs

The Basics

What is Community Engaged learning?

Community Engaged Learning (CEL) (formerly referred to as service-learning) combines academic coursework with the application of institutional resources to address challenges facing communities through…

  • engagement that addresses societal needs identified by a community
  • intentional integration of learning objectives co-created with community partner(s)
  • student preparation and ongoing critical reflection
  • clearly articulated benefits for students, community, and campus partners (e.g. faculty/instructors, MSU Center for Service-Learning & Civic Engagement)
  • opportunities to critically examine social issues and situate self within a community setting

*Adapted from: Michigan State University – Center for Community Engaged Learning Service-Learning Toolkit and Stanford Teaching Commons Community Engaged Learning for Faculty

What are the benefits of Community Engaged Learning?

Students who participate in community engaged learning benefit from getting hands-on experience with communities. Many students are able to enhance what they are learning in their class while developing personal, professional, and leadership skills.

Why is MSU using “Community Engaged Learning” instead of “Service-Learning”?

With service-learning, faculty, students, and community partners tend to limit student engagement to direct service activities (e.g. tutoring youth, serving meals to the homeless, cleaning up a community garden). While direct service is one important type of community engagement, community engaged learning is a broader, more inclusive term that reflects more ways that people engage with their communities. These strategies range from direct service to advocacy to research to philanthropy and more! See some of the various types of community engagement here.

How are Community Engaged Learning Students Different from Other Volunteers?

  • Community engaged learning students are involved with community partners as part of a class they are taking at MSU. Students’ community engagement is connected to the themes and content of their class.
  • Community partners engage students in activities that address community identified needs.
  • Students earn credit for the learning that takes place as a result of the engagement experience and course content. They are, however, usually expected to meet hour requirements, which often range from 2-4 hours/week.
  • Community partners are considered co-educators for students and designate an on-site supervisor to work with students during the semester. Community partners are encouraged to learn about what students are studying in class, help make connections of material to community settings, and facilitate on-site reflection activities. Often, community partners have end-of-semester paperwork duties to verify student completion of their experiences (e.g. hours log, evaluation form) as well.

How do I register?

To register for community engaged learning, follow the Registration Instructions on your course D2L page.

Can I set up my own placement?

If you would like to find your own community engaged learning placement (outside of what is offered through the MSU Center for Service-Learning & Civic Engagement’s offerings), you must first have approval from your course instructor. Being placed in this position means you agree to find your own organization to complete your community engagement with, obtain faculty approval, and set up the dates/times that you will be serving. Keep in mind you will still need to complete a criminal background check and orientation via D2L before you begin. Once you have received approval from your instructor, please submit the following via help request requesting to be placed in an independent placement.

What if I don't have a car on campus?

Community engaged learning is still possible for students who do not have their own vehicle on campus. Some options include the taking community engagement shuttles, riding the CATA bus, carpooling, biking, and walking.

  • Community Engagement Shuttles- The MSU Center for Community Engaged Learning coordinates shuttle vans for students to select placement sites. For tips on how to register for the shuttle van, please see the Registration Instructions found on your course D2L page. Only sign up for a shuttle slot if you are planning to ride the shuttle.

  • CATA bus- In the Serve Learn Engage database, click on the “CATA Accessible” tag to search placements that take 30 minutes or less via bus. The MSU Center for Community Engaged Learning offers free CATA tokens for students who use the bus to/from their community engagement. Students may come to 345 Student Services Building to pick up CATA tokens.

Requirements Before You Begin

What if I had a background check in the past year?

Unless your criminal background check was completed by MSU Human Resources in the past twelve months, you will need complete the Criminal Background Check Form for your community engaged learning class. This form can be found on your course D2L site.

How will I know my criminal background check form has been received?

After we receive your criminal background check form, we send it to MSU Human Resources. The process of verifying your form and conducting the checks usually takes 2-3 weeks. After we receive results back from MSU Human Resources, we will update the “CBC results received” date on your Serve Learn Engage account. Our office will not contact you unless there is an issue requiring your consultation.

What are my requirements before I begin?

Each community engaged learning position has different requirements. Some positions require TB tests, others require additional specific criminal background checks.

To see your requirements before you begin, please do the following after you register;

  • Login to

  • Click on “Status for (Your Name)” and your registration will appear

  • Under “Requirements” there will be an indication of the items you need to complete before you begin

How do I get a TB test?

Some placements require students to complete a TB test before they begin their community engagement. If this applies to you, follow these steps:

  • After registering for a community engaged learning placement, login to

  • Click on “Status for (Your Name).”

  • Click on your position description title, which appears in green font.

  • Scroll down to Requirements to Complete.

  • Download the TB test form and carefully read instructions.

  • NOTE: If you schedule a TB test at Olin Health Center, you will need to take the TB test form with you.

After you receive your results, please stop by 345 Student Services Building during our regular business hours (M-F, 8am-5pm) to have your Serve Learn Engage account updated. You will also need to take a copy of your results to your placement.

Do I need to complete the online D2L orientation?

Most community engaged learning students need to complete the online D2L orientation; students may not begin their community engagement until this requirement has been completed. There are a few exceptions to the online D2L orientation, including those serving with Sparrow Hospital, McLaren Hospital, or the Refugee Development Center; students serving with one of these three organizations must attend the in-person orientation for their organization and do not need to complete the online D2L orientation.

How do I access the online D2L orientation?

After registering for a community engaged learning placement, the MSU Center for Community Engaged Learning will add you to the D2L community titled Community Engaged Learning Orientation. This orientation will be accessible through your D2L account under the gray “Communities” bar (not under the “Courses” bar where your classes show up). Please note that our staff is manually entering students into the D2L community, and it may take a few days to appear.


How many hours will I serve in the community?

This depends on your course and instructor. Keep in mind: The placements posted in our Serve Learn Engage database require about 2-3 hours of community engagement per week for the duration of the semester. Students should be serving consistently with their community partner organization throughout the semester and need to plan ahead to make sure they are on track to complete their required amount of hours by the assigned deadline.

How do I track my time?

Most students are expected to document their community engagement hours throughout the semester. Consult your instructor for additional details.

Help—I need more time! How can I log additional hours?

To log hours beyond your set days and times, talk with your placement to find out how you can make-up hours or log additional time. For example, there might be ways to connect and complete hours through regular programming, but also a special event, fundraiser, etc. If you still need assistance after that, please contact us by help request form.

What if I finish my hours early?

Our community partner organizations are expecting students to serve regularly for the entire semester. If you finish your requirement of hours early, you are often still expected to serving through the last week of classes, as indicated by the Community Engaged Learning Calendar on your course D2L page.

Contacting Your Community Partner

What is a community partner?

A community partner is a nonprofit organization, local school, government agency, or community group that students serve with as part of their community engaged learning class. Community partners help engage students in addressing real needs in the community. Community partners facilitate learning experiences for students in community settings and encourage students to make connections back to what they are learning in their community engaged learning class. Each community partner designates an on-site supervisor who students work with during the semester for their community engagement experience.

When should I contact my community partner?

You may contact your community partner after you have completed all requirements and your status in the Serve. Learn. Engage! database is be listed as “Confirmed.”

To check your status, do the following:

  • Login to

  • Click on “Status for (Your Name)”

  • Your status will be on the right side of the screen. If your status reads “Confirmed,” you have completed all necessary steps and you can begin your community engagement.

How do I contact my community partner?

Not many organizations will reach out directly to students, so you will need to make the first move in reaching out to your contact at the organization. To find your community partner’s information:

  • Login to

  • Click on “Status for (Your Name).”

  • Click on your position description title (in green font).

  • Scroll down to the bottom for contact person and their contact information.

Will my community partner know I am coming? Should I just show up?

Each community partner organization receives a list of students who are confirmed to begin their community engaged learning usually a few days before students are scheduled to start. Students should contact their community partner before showing up.

Who should I contact if I'm having trouble reaching my community partner?

You will likely be serving with a nonprofit organization or school where your community partners are often busy and handling multiple responsibilities. You may need to contact your organization a few times. If your community partner does not respond after the third phone call/email attempt, contact us by filling out the help request form.


What if I want to learn more about volunteering outside of my CEL course?

Great! We encourage you to set up an account to search for opportunities on or may contact us to learn about other ways to be engaged with the community.