SciCourt looks into marketing voluntary service programs

People loading boxes off a truck

Photo by Joel Muniz on Unsplash

The Science Court legal team separated this week into a pro and con team. The pro team will move forward with constructing a plan for mandatory service, while the con team will develop a plan for a national voluntary service program. 

Science Court legal advisor and judge Bill McGinnis pressed students in class on Tuesday to consider administrative and organizational aspects of a national voluntary service program. "We have to have a personnel administrative structure that protects the people in the program," he said. This could include details like how to prevent sexual harassment and keep volunteers safe while they're in the field. 

Aside from program organization, the con team needs to consider how to build interest in a service program that is highly recommended, but not mandatory. One option, legal con team member Madeleine Stankiewicz said, is offering student loan forgiveness to volunteers. These loans could apply to undergraduate, graduate, and returning students, making the voluntary program more appealing to a wider segment of the population. 

There is evidence that loan forgiveness can motivate people to sign up for service opportunities, such as the military and the GI Bill, Stankiewicz said. However, research indicates that people who sign up for military service to meet some kind of external need, such as paying off loans, are less likely to offer the same quality of service as people who enroll out of a desire to serve. At the same time, Stankiewicz said people in voluntary positions are more likely to be engaged and continue service later in life than people forced to do service. The con team is trying to balance these two pieces of evidence as they carry the voluntary service case forward. 

“The hope is that if people are choosing to go into these volunteer positions that they kind of already have that desire to give back,” Stankiewicz said. She said she is hoping that the combination of external incentives and internal motivations tied to volunteerism will produce engaged service members, although more research will be done to understand how these factors interact. 

The con team’s voluntary program will be less rigid than the mandatory program outlined by the pro team. For example, participation in the voluntary program will be open to people of any age, while the mandatory program is likely to be required in early adulthood. By the April 24 trial, both teams will need to prepare concise plans for their service programs so the jury can decide whether voluntary or mandatory service is the most effective means to fighting polarization. 

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