Between 2005 and 2012, St. Lawrence University re-designed and expanded its first-year experience to integrate community-based learning into its first-year living-learning communities. St. Lawrence already had one of the earliest living-learning programs in the U.S.; first-year students lived and studied together, taking courses with their faculty advisors. At the same time, growing worry about student drinking led SLU to link the academic goals of the first year (writing, critical thinking, and interdisciplinary problem-solving) with a focus on student well-being–and to do so by grounding curriculum in community-based learning. With a series of grants from Bringing Theory to Practice, SLU launched a new Center for Civic Engagement and refashioned the First-Year Program. First-year courses focused on significant public issues and included community work, and students developed writing, research, and critical-thinking skills through reflection on their public engagements. After an initial pilot phase, the First-Year Program expanded the model to include the majority of students in first-year living-learning communities and to seed service-learning courses in a majority of departments.
This expansion was supported by a faculty associates program that exposed departments and faculty to engaged pedagogies and community-project-based teaching. The First-Year Program surveyed both faculty and students over several years, documenting which community experiences and pedagogical practices had the most significant effect on academic engagement, civic participation, and drinking behaviors.