University with a mission

Mercer thrives on service learning

By Patty Rasmussen

By definition, a university seeks to expose inquisitive, enthusiastic students to ideas and experiences that lead them to discover how they can contribute to society and build communities. Mercer University, a private university founded in Macon in 1833 with ever-expanding campuses in Atlanta and Savannah, more than lives up to that ideal in unique fashion, wedding rigorous academic programs to its historical mission of service to others.

“Mercer is big on finding your calling,” says Professor of English Andrew Silver. “It’s not just about resumé stuffing. It’s about creating an urge to make your life a calling.”

The school was founded by Georgia Baptists; it remains faith-based but has had no formal religious affiliation since 2006.

“From the outset of their Mercer experience, students are encouraged to get outside the confines of the campus,” says Dr. Mary Alice Morgan, Mercer’s senior vice provost for service learning, who oversees programs woven into the curricula of the university’s 11 colleges and schools, which include Liberal Arts, Law, Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Medicine, Nursing, Engineering, Business and Economics, Theology, Education, Continuing and Professional Education, and Music.

Within those disciplines, emphasis is placed on service learning, combining in-class academics with community service or community-based research. Mercer’s service-learning component was nationally recognized by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, which awarded the school its highly prized Community Engagement Classification.

The result is a student like Chelsea Flieger, a Suwanee native who arrived at Mercer in 2008 with the goal of becoming a teacher but ended up graduating in May with a degree in Leadership and Community Service and minors in Spanish and Communication. “My Mercer experience was very different than I planned for it to be,” she says. While taking political science and leadership classes, Flieger discovered a passion for community service. Halfway through her sophomore year, she attended the Clinton Global Initiative University Meeting in Miami with several other students.

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