Ask Rachel Vaughn about her new job as director of the Carlson Leadership & Public Service Center — or her own recent honor from the ROOTS Youth Shelter — and shes likely to talk more about the centers hard-working students and staff than herself.
Shes just not eager for personal credit. At the Carlson center, where service learning and community partnerships are key, Vaughn feels its the students and staff that really deserve the praise.
“Theres an incredibly dedicated group of staff here who strongly believe that partnerships between the university and the community are a really critical piece of the University of Washington — both educationally and who we are as an institution,” she said in a recent interview.
The mission of the Carlson center, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, is to develop “service-learning, community-based participatory research and leadership opportunities for UW students that sustain reciprocal partnerships, deepen learning, advance civic engagement and contribute to our greater community.”
Vaughn said the center has engaged 20,000 students in service learning over its two decades, and doubled the number of students engaged in service learning in just the last two years. “And thats in a time of budget cuts,” she said. “Its overwhelming in some sense, but its also exciting because the students are really engaged.” The staff achieved that increase in part by streamlining processes and moving to an electronic database.
Vaughn came to the center in the late ‘90s, and worked as a graduate research assistant while earning a masters degree from the School of Social Work. She served as the first academic adviser for the then-new Program on the Environment from 1998 to 2001. After that she joined the Community Campus Partnerships for Health, a national nonprofit based at the UW that also focuses on civic engagement and service learning. Vaughn returned to the center as assistant director in 2004, became associate director in 2007 and took over as director in November 2011. She remains a part-time consultant for the nonprofit health organization.
Vaughn gets praise from the woman she succeeded as director, Michaelann Jundt, a longtime friend who is now an assistant dean for undergraduate affairs. “I loved working with Rachel for seven years, and her integrity and commitment were inspiring” Jundt wrote in email. “I consider her one of my mentors in service-learning. I am so excited for all the students, faculty and community partners that will be able to work with Rachel as the leader of the Carlson center’s work.”
Vaughn has also long been the centers liaison with the ROOTS Shelter on 43rd Street, which serves homeless youth of the University District and holds “Friday Feast” each week, feeding anyone who stops by. She was among six people honored by the center in a December volunteer appreciation event — an honor she quickly deflects, saying it was more for “the longevity and depth of our partnership.”
She added, “I felt like I was accepting it on behalf of the Carlson center for the hard work the center staff have been doing for years.”
Colin Knight, program manager for ROOTS (which stands for Rising Out of the Shadows), said Vaughn and the center are vitally important to their work. “ROOTS relies almost exclusively on volunteers to make the shelter and the Friday Feast happen. It really couldnt happen without the Carlson centers involvement, Rachel Vaughn being the primary contact,” he said.
The centers staff is fairly small. Vaughn is one of four professional staff who she said work varying percentages of time due to recent budget cuts, and there are two graduate student staffers, two undergraduates, two interns and an AmeriCorps member.
With the centers 20th anniversary comes some thought about the future, and Vaughn has a number of ideas. One question being pondered, she said, is whether its realistic to set a goal of engaging another 20,000 students in service learning over the next 10 years, doubling the past pace. That would be a challenge, to be sure, but Vaughn said simply, “I suspect that we will achieve that.”
In addition, she said, “One of the things were hoping to do is think critically about what opportunities we could provide students that maybe look different than our traditional service-learning model — and meet some of our U-District partners needs during the summer.”
Summer does present challenges. The shelter continues to need help, but most UW students are too busy, in the shortened quarter, for any service learning. The staff will have to “think creatively” to solve that problem, Vaughn said.
“The foundation of our work is reciprocity,” she said. “We really are working to make sure we have a mutually beneficial relationship with our community partners. Another piece of that reciprocity is respecting and honoring that our partners are helping educate our students.”
She feels strongly, and teaches students, that “you engage in the community with an open heart, an open mind and a learning attitude, not ‘I am here to solve all your problems or save your community. Theres some humility in how they enter into community service.”