Every Christmas while growing up, Allan Rock's parents volunteered at an orphanage, imparting a sense of community service in him.
Now, as president at the University of Ottawa, he wants to do the same for his students.
Canadian institutions have made learning and research the pillars of higher education. Mr. Rock has added a third pillar to his university. "It occurred to me that when we were preparing the plan for what the university wants to be that it would be important to put service to others … at the heart of our mission," he said.
The former Canadian politician and diplomat spearheaded the creation of a global and community engagement centre, which launched last October. Students, faculty and staff who walk into the centre can volunteer in a way that's designed to match their training, interests and talents. That could involve working at the local Ottawa mission, in an aboriginal community across the country, or helping the less fortunate in a developing country.
Aeroplan has created an account to allow alumni to contribute their unused miles toward financing a student's volunteering trip. And a scholarship, created by television personality and U of Ottawa graduate Alex Trebek, matches donations to offset travel and project costs for students. So far, more than 3,000 students are volunteering through the centre.
Mr. Rock hopes that at the end of their studies, students have not only mastered the curriculum, but have made community service a part of their lives. "What we hope to do is produce graduates who really feel as though they have internalized for their lifetime an ethic of service," Mr. Rock said. "We're trying to combine scholarship and social purpose."