Northwest Vista College students volunteer at the San Antonio Food Bank. Credit: Northwest Vista College

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Best-selling author and speaker on leadership, James Strock, defines leadership as something that can be attained by anyone who is willing to serve. In Serve to Lead 2.0, Strock writes, “We are in transition from a transaction-based world to a relationship-based world.”

I couldn’t agree more. In my nearly four decades in higher education, the leadership muscle that I continue to flex the most is that of service. It is precisely what we teach to college students and should continue to encourage.

During the 2019 calendar year, 3,852 Northwest Vista College (NVC) students spent a total of 29,024 hours volunteering and serving the San Antonio community. According to the national estimated earned value for volunteerism, as measured by the Independent Sector, the combined volunteer effort of NVC students last year is estimated at $728,502.

NVC encourages students to volunteer in the community as part of their learning experience. They work with various local, national and international organizations as part of their courses, clubs and organizations, and out of the desire to make a positive impact.

Currently NVC has 40 active community partners whose missions range from helping kids with their reading skills to providing sustenance to food-insecure residents at Haven for Hope. The college has a dedicated service learning coordinator who establishes, maintains and strengthens these partnerships. The Guadalupe Community Center, for example, has been NVC’s partner for 14 years, providing NVC students with hundreds of hours spent in service to those in need.

Imagine if we were to add up all volunteer hours for every organization that Northwest Vista College students served over the college’s 25-year history. Imagine that number multiplied by the hours dedicated by students from all sister colleges within the Alamo Colleges District. The combined value contributed to the community would be enormous.

Each one of the colleges within the Alamo Colleges District: St. Philip’s College, San Antonio College, Palo Alto College, Northwest Vista College and Northeast Lakeview College has volunteer opportunities that propel students to become responsible members of their communities.

The opportunities afforded through these partnerships include exploring careers, gaining leadership skills, and experiencing diverse cultures and communities within San Antonio. Volunteer hours are reported on the student’s non-academic transcript or through certificates and awards that can be shared with transfer universities and potential employers.

In addition to these service opportunities, certain academic programs such as NVC’s Community Health Worker program, enable students to enhance their classroom knowledge with field experience. Last year, 40 NVC students enrolled in the program, volunteered over 100 hours per week for a combined 6,400 hours for the year. They volunteered at health fairs organized by the Guadalupe Community Center’s after-school program, where NVC students conducted health-related presentations showing kids how much sugar is in candy and other foods.

Other NVC student volunteer programs include cleaning up beaches, supporting the San Antonio Food Bank, and serving as mentors.

The combined value of volunteer hours donated by NVC students is comparable to hours completed by those enrolled at universities. This comparison is remarkable because the majority of community college students attend college part-time and do not live on campus. Most NVC students are attending college with the help of federal financial assistance or need-based scholarships. They work, sometimes full time, and have family obligations. Some are married, some are single parents, and some have multiple jobs to juggle. Their dedication and service to community serves as an inspiration for us all and as a stepping stone toward servant leadership.

Ric Neal Baser is the president of Northwest Vista College, one of the colleges within the Alamo Colleges District. He is also the president of the Higher Education Council of San Antonio, a consortium...