Frequently Asked Questions


Community Engaged Learning FAQs

The Basics

What is Community Engaged learning?

Community engaged learning that combines academic coursework, community engagement, and reflection. Through community engaged learning, students focus on critical, reflective thinking to develop their academic skills, sense of civic responsibility, and commitment to the community.


 What are the benefits of Community Engaged Learning?

Students who participate in community engaged learning benefit from getting hands-on experience with communities. Many students are able to enhance what they are learning in their class while developing personal, professional, and leadership skills.


How do I register?

To register for community engaged learning, follow the Registration Instructions on your course D2L page.


Can I set up my own placement?

If you would like to find your own community engaged learning placement (outside of what is offered through the MSU Center for Service-Learning & Civic Engagement’s offerings), you must first have approval from your course instructor. Being placed in this position means you agree to find your own organization to complete your community engagement with, obtain faculty approval, and set up the dates/times that you will be serving. Keep in mind you will still need to complete a criminal background check and orientation via D2L before you begin. Once you have received approval from your instructor, please submit the following via help request requesting to be placed in an independent placement.


What if I don't have a car on campus?

Community engaged learning is still possible for students who do not have their own vehicle on campus. Some options include the taking community engagement shuttles, riding the CATA bus, carpooling, biking, and walking.

  • Community Engagement Shuttles- The MSU Center for Service-Learning and Civic Engagement coordinates shuttle vans for students to select placement sites. For tips on how to register for the shuttle van, please see the Registration Instructions found on your course D2L page. Only sign up for a shuttle slot if you are planning to ride the shuttle.

  • CATA bus- In the Serve Learn Engage database, click on the “CATA Accessible” tag to search placements that take 30 minutes or less via bus. The MSU Center for Service-Learning and Civic Engagement offers free CATA tokens for students who use the bus to/from their community engagement. Students may come to 345 Student Services Building to pick up CATA tokens.

Requirements Before You Begin

What if I had a background check in the past year?

Unless your criminal background check was completed by MSU Human Resources in the past twelve months, you will need complete the Criminal Background Check Form for your community engaged learning class. This form can be found on your course D2L site.


How will I know my criminal background check form has been received?

After we receive your criminal background check form, we send it to MSU Human Resources. The process of verifying your form and conducting the checks usually takes 2-3 weeks. After we receive results back from MSU Human Resources, we will update the “CBC results received” date on your Serve Learn Engage account. Our office will not contact you unless there is an issue requiring your consultation.


What are my requirements before I begin?

Each community engaged learning position has different requirements. Some positions require TB tests, others require additional specific criminal background checks.

To see your requirements before you begin, please do the following after you register;

  • Login to

  • Click on “Status for (Your Name)” and your registration will appear

  • Under “Requirements” there will be an indication of the items you need to complete before you begin


How do I get a TB test?

Some placements require students to complete a TB test before they begin their community engagement. If this applies to you, follow these steps:

  • After registering for a community engaged learning placement, login to

  • Click on “Status for (Your Name).”

  • Click on your position description title, which appears in green font.

  • Scroll down to Requirements to Complete.

  • Download the TB test form and carefully read instructions.

  • NOTE: If you schedule a TB test at Olin Health Center, you will need to take the TB test form with you.

After you receive your results, please stop by 345 Student Services Building during our regular business hours (M-F, 8am-5pm) to have your Serve Learn Engage account updated. You will also need to take a copy of your results to your placement.


Do I need to complete the online D2L orientation?

Most community engaged learning students need to complete the online D2L orientation; students may not begin their community engagement until this requirement has been completed. There are a few exceptions to the online D2L orientation, including those serving with Sparrow Hospital, McLaren Hospital, or the Refugee Development Center; students serving with one of these three organizations must attend the in-person orientation for their organization and do not need to complete the online D2L orientation.


How do I access the online D2L orientation?

After registering for a community engaged learning placement, the MSU Center for Service-Learning and Civic Engagement will add you to the D2L community titled Community Engaged Learning Orientation. This orientation will be accessible through your D2L account under the gray “Communities” bar (not under the “Courses” bar where your classes show up). Please note that our staff is manually entering students into the D2L community, and it may take a few days to appear.



How many hours will I serve in the community?

This depends on your course and instructor. Keep in mind: The placements posted in our Serve Learn Engage database require about 2-3 hours of community engagement per week for the duration of the semester. Students should be serving consistently with their community partner organization throughout the semester and need to plan ahead to make sure they are on track to complete their required amount of hours by the assigned deadline.


How do I track my time?

Most students are expected to document their community engagement hours throughout the semester. Consult your instructor for additional details.


Help—I need more time! How can I log additional hours?

To log hours beyond your set days and times, talk with your placement to find out how you can make-up hours or log additional time. For example, there might be ways to connect and complete hours through regular programming, but also a special event, fundraiser, etc. If you still need assistance after that, please contact us by help request form.


What if I finish my hours early?

Our community partner organizations are expecting students to serve regularly for the entire semester. If you finish your requirement of hours early, you are often still expected to serving through the last week of classes, as indicated by the Community Engaged Learning Calendar on your course D2L page.


Contacting Your Community Partner

What is a community partner?

A community partner is a nonprofit organization, local school, government agency, or community group that students serve with as part of their community engaged learning class. Community partners help engage students in addressing real needs in the community. Community partners facilitate learning experiences for students in community settings and encourage students to make connections back to what they are learning in their community engaged learning class. Each community partner designates an on-site supervisor who students work with during the semester for their community engagement experience.


When should I contact my community partner?

You may contact your community partner after you have completed all requirements and your status in the Serve. Learn. Engage! database is be listed as “Confirmed.”

To check your status, do the following:

  • Login to

  • Click on “Status for (Your Name)”

  • Your status will be on the right side of the screen. If your status reads “Confirmed,” you have completed all necessary steps and you can begin your community engagement.


How do I contact my community partner?

Not many organizations will reach out directly to students, so you will need to make the first move in reaching out to your contact at the organization. To find your community partner’s information:

  • Login to

  • Click on “Status for (Your Name).”

  • Click on your position description title (in green font).

  • Scroll down to the bottom for contact person and their contact information.

Will my community partner know I am coming? Should I just show up?

Each community partner organization receives a list of students who are confirmed to begin their community engaged learning usually a few days before students are scheduled to start. Students should contact their community partner before showing up.


Who should I contact if I'm having trouble reaching my community partner?

You will likely be serving with a nonprofit organization or school where your community partners are often busy and handling multiple responsibilities. You may need to contact your organization a few times. If your community partner does not respond after the third phone call/email attempt, contact us by filling out the help request form.  



What if I want to learn more about volunteering outside of my CEL course?

Great! We encourage you to set up an account to search for opportunities on or may contact us to learn about other ways to be engaged with the community.

Awards and Recognition

In recognition of the service and engagement of our faculty, staff, students, alumni, and community partners, Michigan State University was awarded the following prestigious awards in 2014

U.S. President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll Logo

2014 U.S. President's "Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll (with Distinction)"

Carnegie Foundation Logo

2014 Carnegie Foundation "Elective Community Engagement" Classification

Michigan Campus Compact Logo

2014 Michigan Campus Compact "Engaged Campus of the Year"