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New service learning staffer to work with community groups

by Jeanne Baron

April 12, 2011 | WMU News

Photo of Shawn L. Tenney.
Shawn L. Tenney
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KALAMAZOO--Shawn L. Tenney, who has experience as a community organizer and social researcher, has been named Western Michigan University's coordinator for service-learning, effective March 21.

Prior to joining WMU's staff, Tenney was a medical social worker in Battle Creek, Mich., working with low-income senior citizens. She replaces Kathy Purnell, who was WMU's first service-learning coordinator and is now a research contracts administrator in the University's Office of the Vice President for Research.

The Office of Service-Learning at WMU develops mutually beneficial service-learning partnerships between community-based organizations and the campus. Such partnerships foster engaged student citizenship and learning, as well as mobilize students to use their knowledge, talents and energies to benefit the greater community.

"I'm looking forward to working to expand the availability of high-quality service-learning opportunities for WMU students," Tenney says. "I hope to deepen their involvement in learning through civic engagement and service to community."

A Kalamazoo native, Tenney has deep roots in the local area as well as a passion for service- learning. She began her professional career in the health-care field and has been a medical/surgical technician; owner and care coordinator for a private home health care business; medical office manager and EMS education assistant course coordinator.

Tenney earned a bachelor's degree in human development and social relations from Kalamazoo College in 2004 and a master's degree in social work from WMU in 2009.

While attending Kalamazoo College, she worked with that school's Mary Jane Underwood Stryker Center for Service-Learning as the program assessment coordinator. She helped faculty and staff develop and implement new service learning and co-curricular initiatives as well as evaluate existing programs. She returned after earning her undergraduate degree, serving as an intern during her graduate studies, and was instrumental in creating the college's "First Generation College Student," or G1, program.

While attending WMU, Tenney served as a graduate assistant with the University's Foster Youth in Higher Education Initiative and as a foster care and adoption intern with Kalamazoo's Family and Children's Services.

From 2005 to 2007, Tenney was a Local Initiatives Support Corp. AmeriCorp community organizer and social researcher. LISC, the largest community development support organization in the country, connects local organizations and community leaders with resources to revitalize neighborhoods and improve quality of life. Its AmeriCorp program dovetails that support with efforts to promote volunteerism and civic engagement by encouraging neighbors to take active roles in advocating for themselves and their neighborhoods and active roles in transforming their communities.

As a LIST AmeriCorp worker, Tenney created and implemented a quality-of-life survey in Kalamazoo's Edison Neighborhood, interviewing more than 600 residents and reporting findings and recommendations to local stakeholders. She later worked in low-income neighborhoods, organizing residents and assisting them with self-advocacy.

"I believe strongly in serving others by sharing tools that enable them to help themselves," Tenney says, "and I expect to extend this philosophy to my new role at WMU."

Her local community service efforts also have encompassed animal care and advocacy. Tenney is the founder of No More Strays Cat Rescue, and since 1998, has served as its foster care and rehabilitation coordinator. She also has worked with Kalamazoo Animal Rescue and the Kalamazoo Humane Society.

WMU's Office of Service-Learning is based in and overseen by the Lewis Walker Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnic Relations. The Walker Institute is located on campus in Welborn Hall, near the corner of Howard Street and West Michigan Avenue in Kalamazoo.

For more information about service learning at WMU, visit or contact Shawn Tenney, service-learning coordinator, at or (269) 387-2139.