NORTH BAY – Empire College has become the only private, for-profit college in California to be named "with distinction" to the 2012 "President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll," a national award recognizing colleges that inspire lifelong civic engagement among their students.

It was the first time that the Santa Rosa-based college had applied for the award. The career college was named to "Honor Roll with Distinction."

Dominican University of California in San Rafael was named to the list for a fifth year, part of the broader "Honor Roll."

Empire College Executive Vice President Sherie Hurd said she decided to apply for the award because “I was really proud. It was an opportunity to think about what we’re doing.”

In California, 18 schools were named to the list with distinction, and 29 were named to the broader honor roll. A total of 110 colleges nationally made the Honor Roll with Distinction, with 513 named to the honor roll.

[caption id="attachment_51558" align="alignleft" width="280" caption="A group of medical students from Empire College provided 1,000 flu shots as part of the Sonoma County Flu Task Force in December 2011 (Photo courtesy Empire College)"][/caption]

Colleges applying for the award were required to detail the roll that community service had in its academic programs. At Empire, President Roy Hurd explained that each academic program had a corresponding “service-based learning” component.

“The student benefits from the exposure,” he said. “They’re taught to network, but they also learn that, if you give back to the community, you get something in return.”

The college has sent students to benefit a number of North Bay organizations: for the county itself, medical students recently helped administer 1,000 flu shots. Law students offer support help to seniors and other needs in the community; information technology work is provided for the Community Action Partnership of Sonoma County, and accounting students provide income tax assistance.

That level of service has infused into the culture of Empire College as a whole, going beyond students, Mr. Hurd said.

“When you have it as part of the culture of the school, that exposure internally manifests itself at staff meetings and whenever anyone gets together,” he said. “You establish a culture where people talk about it, and they want to do more.”

[caption id="attachment_51559" align="alignright" width="280" caption="Many classes at Dominican University incorporate a "service learning" component, sending students to volunteer in surrounding schools and organizations (Photo courtesy Dominican University)"][/caption]

At Dominican University, Director of Service Learning Julia Vanderryn said that service-based learning is built into a number of general education courses, ranging from nine to 13 each semester.

“We really do see it not just as service, but what our students are learning from the community,” she said.

Dominican University students have worked as mentors at the Marin Community School and assisted other groups including the Canal Alliance, Bahia Vista Elementary School, Homeward Bound and St. Vincent de Paul.

This semester saw the largest number of students enrolled in service learning courses at the private university – 220.

“We make it kind of unavoidable for students,” Ms. Vanderryn said.

By 2015, Ms. Vanderryn said that Domincan University hopes that all students will have at least three “engaged learning” experiences. Those would include experiences like studying abroad and internships, as well as service-based learning.

Ms. Hurd of Empire College noted that the North Bay, and Sonoma County in particular, was known for a high density of nonprofits. Efforts under way at the college, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, reflected that legacy.

“The culture of community service that exists at Empire College emanates from its founder, Henry Trione. He sets an example for all of us to model,” she said.

The President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll began in 2006, offering the highest federal recognition a university can receive for its community service. Five colleges were named to the most elite level of the award in 2012, known as the "Presidential Award."

The Corporation for National and Community Service administers the award in partnership with the U.S. Department of Education.