The University of Cincinnati’s Service-Learning Co-op Program – A Trifecta of Wins

by Paula Harper, Manager of Partnership Development Service Learning Co-op


Arts and Sciences students at the University of Cincinnati have often struggled to find meaningful, paid internship experiences that can help them develop professionally. One reason for this is that Arts and Sciences majors rarely have a career path as clearly defined as say an engineering or computing major. Their options are usually much broader and often take some soul-searching, and perhaps some trial and error, to determine.

UC’s Service-Learning Co-op program was developed to provide the opportunity for students, mostly from the Arts and Sciences, to explore their career options, gain professional experience, and practice their skills in a nurturing environment that could expose them to a variety of work roles and get paid for their work. There is no better place to do that than with a nonprofit since they generally have a strong desire to help others, including students; they often have multiple projects happening simultaneously that require a variety of skills; and with only a few people to execute the tasks associated with each project, they tend to welcome outside assistance.

In addition to helping students, the Service-Learning Co-op was also intended to benefit our nonprofit partners, as well as the communities they serve, in a meaningful way. Although the idea was conceived and forged prior to the pandemic, the program became a lifesaver for many nonprofits during a time when needs were at an all-time high.

Since the program first began in the spring of 2020, our nonprofit partners have been amazed at what our students have been able to do and many have invited their student back for multiple rotations, often finding the budget to pay them outright if our funding could no longer be used since some of our funding models limit a student to completing only one experience.

To date, 329 unique students have participated in the Service-Learning Co-op program, many of which have participated multiple times. Some students discovered their career path as a result of their Service-Learning Co-op while others opted to explore other types of work after completing their project. Both scenarios are invaluable since they help students narrow the scope of possibilities so that they have a clearer direction for their career as they approach graduation.

Students can participate in the program in one of two ways: by searching through the “bank” of Service-Learning Co-op positions that have already been developed, or by working with an advisor who can help connect them to a nonprofit of their choice.

The Service-Learning Co-op program has garnered the attention of several other universities who are working on ways to replicate the program within their own institutions. It has also garnered attention from several donors who like the idea of sponsoring a program that “goes the distance” by supporting positive outcomes for so many. It’s a trifecta of wins for students, nonprofits, and community members.

Nonprofits and students who are interested in learning more about the Service-Learning Co-op program and how they can participate are welcome to contact Paula Harper at paula.harper@uc.edu.

Donors who are interested in supporting UC’s Service-Learning Co-op program can contact Michael Sharp at michael.sharp@uc.edu.