Shaw Center marks 20 years of leadership and engagement in Syracuse community

Literacy programs are among the center's earliest and largest.

At the Mary Ann Shaw Center for Public and Community Service, giving back has always involved more than just offering a helping hand. 

The Shaw Center, which in October  celebrates its 20th anniversary, prides itself on the reciprocal learning experience it fosters between Syracuse University tutor and student, said Pam Heintz, associate vice president and director at the center. What the Syracuse University tutor takes away from the service experience is key.

“Social issues are very complex,”  Heintz said.  “They’re not solved by giving blankets to homeless people.  We want SU students to recognize and understand how complex the social problems are so they can work towards making them less challenging and manage them.” 

The Shaw Center was officially established in 1994 under Mary Ann Shaw, wife of then Chancellor Kenneth A. Shaw.  During the planning stages for the center, she convened more than 100 campus and community members to brainstorm goals and action plans. 

Leadership and engagement were both important components of the center when it opened. The center’s widely acclaimed Literacy Initiatives launched later in 1997. Since then, the center has won numerous awards, including the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Role with Distinction.   

“I get calls from campuses all over the country about engagement,” Heintz said.  “I’ve also had colleagues from places like Japan, Australia, Egypt and Jordan that have come to ask me about developing their own curriculums at home.”

The Shaw Center has four main programs for service and engagement: Leadership, Community Based Service Learning, Literacy and Consultation.  Literacy is one of the center’s largest programs.  Currently 133 students in the Literacy Corps tutor in the Syracuse City School District and provide academic support. 

“SU students go into local schools during the day and incorporate their services into the teacher’s curriculum,” said Amanda Johnson, Winnick Literacy Program Coordinator.  “No matter if a tutor is helping a kindergartener or a fourth grader, they are working with kids one on one that have reading levels less than their peers.”

Johnson also said that what the tutors learn from this experience is a critical part of their community service.

“Our tutors learn a lot about the Syracuse community through tutoring. They also learn about themselves,” Johnson said.  “They learn that they have the skills to bring about change in a community.”

Jose Godinez, an entrepreneurship junior, started out as a Literacy Corps tutor during his freshman year.  He continues to be involved at the Shaw Center, providing assistance with the center’s “Balancing the Books” program. He said this program was designed to engage Martin J. Whitman School of Management students with the local community by teaching Syracuse City School District students financial literacy.  Godinez also serves as a Shaw advisory board member, providing a student’s perspective to the many issues and ideas that Heintz deals with on a daily basis. 

Although Godinez is currently working more on the administrative side of the Shaw Center, he said his experience as a Literacy Corps volunteer was one that was both unforgettable and character-building.

“I loved it,” Godinez said.  “There’s no better feeling, and nothing more rewarding than helping a kid understand a topic they’re struggling with.  It made me proud of the work I was doing.”

On this 20th anniversary of the Shaw Center, Heintz said her hopes for the future include making it easier for students to take advantage of the many service experiences on the SU campus.

“If we connect things that already exist, new opportunities can arise,” Heintz said.  “Hendricks Chapel, the Honors School and the Whitman School of Management have great engagement opportunities too. We know where those places are, but setting them up a little more strategically might be helpful to students.”

Heintz said past Shaw Center interns have recently come back to SU to celebrate the 20th anniversary.  She said each of the returning interns told her the same thing: during all of the interviews they’ve been on since graduating SU, their experience with the Shaw Center is what they talked about most. 

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