Casey Peterson has been the director of the BYU Center for Service and Learning for seven years. He also teaches student development courses in tutoring and learning through service. Peterson graduated from BYU in 1996 with a bachelor’s degree in international relations. He is currently working toward completing a doctorate degree in educational leadership.
What does your job as director of the Center for Service and Learning entail?
There are lots and lots of responsibilities. It’s different everyday. The biggest part is in the Center for Service and Learning there are 63 different community service programs that are running … . So, the biggest part of my job is working with the student leaders who oversee the running of those programs and the community partners who host those programs. We have about 220 student program directors who run those programs and underneath those there are about 22,000 volunteers per year that participate in the programs. The variety of the programs, the differences among students and just the growth and experiences of the students are key parts of my job.
You also teach several student development courses. What kind of things go on in those classes?
There are two that I teach, one is a learning through service class, which is fascinating because service is not a new concept. Students come here with a long history of having participated in service, but many of them have not stopped to analyze why they serve, how they serve of the effects of their service. So, this class looks at a lot of different components of what makes learning through service effective and how learning through service can improve the outcomes and the level of meaning and the approaches they come to understand that service exists in a lot of areas. Obviously, there’s government service or organized service or community service or church service and there’s lot of individual services. Whether it’s large or small, we’re surrounded by service continually and in the class we’re able to analyze what our part is in mobilizing and leading and participating in service.
A student’s review online said they learned in your class that service is more than helping people. How do you define service?
We really try to approach service as a mindset, not as a project, that would be one of my main goals in the class. People have been trained in society to see service as a project that we go and we give a quantified number of hours or money or products and after the 10 hours or the two hours or whatever it is, that we move on and we don’t think about in. So in the class we talk about service as a mindset, that we’re continually looking for opportunities to serve and we’re looking for opportunities to serve better … . Having that mindset and that understanding leads to better service and better service leads to more meaningful service, which then becomes addictive for people. It’s life-changing.
If you could accomplish one thing while at BYU, what would it be?
One aim of a BYU education is lifelong learning and service. I feel like sometimes (service) doesn’t get as much emphasis, obviously, as the academic learning or the spiritual strengthening, the character building. But I feel like that is kind of the key component in making people successful. There’s a ton of research that shows how academics go up when students are actually applying the principles outside the classroom in a service-learning experiences. Nothing strengthens a character or builds a character more effectively than selfless service. I think it obviously strengthens them spiritually, so the thing I would love to accomplish is seeing how much of an integral part service is in the whole BYU experience and bringing those aims together.
How do you tie the gospel into your job and into your teaching?
It goes back to that goal I have that service is a mindset, that people don’t have to plan out or map out their service time … . Service is what makes my job fun. Not just because it’s a service job, but because I understand what service is and how it applies. I think in any occupation, any major, any hobby, if that mindset of service is there, it makes everything better. It makes life better, it makes your job better, it makes your family better, I think it’s just the key component … . Having that mindset just leads to better people, happier people, stronger testimonies. It’s amazing.