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Service Learning and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals at Rustic Pathways
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Service Learning and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals at Rustic Pathways

When we created our Student Learning Outcomes in 2015, we’d been hearing anecdotally for years that Rustic Pathways programs transformed students. Parents told us their children returned home changed after stepping outside their comfort zones and meeting new challenges during immersive service learning experiences.

That was great, but we wanted to take it a step further. So we decided to do a few things:

  1. Design our programs in a way that would include intentional learning moments through community service and cultural immersion, group discussion, and personal reflection that would encourage student growth.
  2. Identify the skills, habits, and mindsets closely associated with future success that would change in students as a result of participating in a Rustic Pathways program.
  3. Measure whether students demonstrated growth in the ways we anticipated after returning home, and if that would continue after an extended period of time.

We’ve published our annual Impact Report for years to highlight the service work students completed in our partner communities around the world. Starting in 2016, we added the results of our first Student Impact Evaluation.

Each year we take those results to refine our programs. Here’s how it works:

Rustic Pathways Student Impact Cycle

  • Student Learning Experience: During travel, students immerse in local culture, participate in community service, bond with new friends, and more. They also debrief with their groups and spend time reflecting to process what they’re learning and contextualize their experiences.
  • Student Impact Evaluation: Before and after travel, they complete the Student Impact Survey, which Rustic analyzes.
  • Program Development: That data informs not only program design and updates to existing programs, but shapes how we train the Program Leaders who facilitate these experiences for students.

We’re taking that a step further starting this year with our alignment with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by tying program outcomes to these global initiatives.

For instance, students who participate in Life in the Bateyes in the Dominican Republic learn about the social, racial, and economic issues that have resulted in substandard living conditions for this community of Dominican and Haitan sugarcane workers. Students will assist with construction projects to build new homes for these families and create an educational activities camp for local children.

As part of this experience, students also learn what steps to take at home that will contribute to ending poverty, one of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

During the program in the Dominican Republic, students also learn what they can do to change their own behavior to advocate for poverty alleviation in their home communities.

According to the Sustainable Development Goals recommendations, students should get involved in local policymaking related to poverty. Doing so encourages young people to think critically about supporting transformational changes.

Rustic Pathways’ ultimate goal is to create globally-minded self-aware young people committed to making change. We want our students to take what they learn while traveling and start to create change in their home communities.

We evaluate our student impact by measuring how programs change behavior and not just students’ intentions. And each year, we get better at facilitating the types of experiences that lead to the development of future change makers.


Click below to get more information about our global impact at Rustic Pathways.

About the Author

Erin Murphy

Student Impact Director

Erin is passionate about Rustic Pathways' vision of a world where travel is an essential part of every student's education. After graduating from Notre Dame, Erin spent three years in northeastern Thailand teaching business English at Khon Kaen University through a Princeton in Asia Fellowship. Erin earned her master’s in education at Harvard and brings great energy to our team of educators. Though Erin bounces from country to country quite a lot, there is still no place like home in Virginia.