Centered on Service

Cheri Trout Doane ’98 has received numerous awards, including the Governor’s Volunteer Service Award in 2011. She works not for the recognition but for the valuable partnerships created between students and nonprofit organizations.

It isn’t difficult to see that Cheri Trout Doane ’98 is passionate about what she does. Spend a few minutes in her office, and she’ll tell you story after story. She’s not afraid to laugh fondly at the memories, or to tear up if the recollection calls for it.

As the head of Central’s distinguished Center for Community-Based Learning (CCBL), Doane calls herself a connector. Academic service-learning strives to enhance students’ classroom experiences with hands-on lessons while fostering connections between college and community.

In more than 15 years at Central, as both a student and employee, Doane’s enthusiasm has made a lasting impact on the college. “Her passion for what she does permeates who she is,” says Renee Sedlacek ’05, who spent a year working in the CCBL and is now service-learning coordinator at Wartburg College. “She’s authentic. She does this because she believes in it.”

That belief stems from her childhood, when her Quaker faith encouraged her to value human rights and community involvement. As an adult living in Newton and then Pella, she has been involved with the Pella Public Library Board, Lake Red Rock Association and countless other community groups. “I always saw community as a place people learned,” Doane says.

Back to School

Some alumni will remember Doane not as a staff member but as a classmate. She came to Central as a non-traditional student in the mid-90s. “With my kids in high school, I wanted to return to the career world,” she says.

Doane admits her first class, one she needed for a core credit, was intimidating. As a woman in her 40s, she stood out in the classroom of first-year students.

Despite the age gap, Doane found she had no problem creating friendships with her fellow classmates, which won’t surprise those who know her. Before long, she was hosting study sessions at her home, where she would provide a home-cooked meal before they hit the books.

Her former classmates say her outside life made her an asset in classes. She “helped us to see how to handle adult communication,” says Sarah Fosdick Turnbull ’00, who was a regular invitee to Doane’s study sessions. “She set the bar high because she was so eager to dig back in and learn.”

From Humble Beginnings

After receiving her degree, Doane began working toward her master’s but also
accepted a part-time job coordinating Central’s fledgling service-learning program. Today, sitting in her office in the state-of-the-art Roe Center, she’s not afraid to admit the program got off to a less-than-glamorous start.

Her first office was in Jordan Hall—in a closet. She’s careful to clarify that she doesn’t mean a small office. “My key, when I picked it up from the physical plant, was labeled ‘Jordan Hall closet,’” she says with a laugh.

In the early days, Doane’s primary duty was coordinating student travel to work sites. But her responsibilities grew with the CCBL. Today, faculty can add a service-learning option to any course. When students choose to participate, the CCBLstaff partners them with a non-profit organization whose needs match up with theirs.

Through the staff’s efforts, Central has become a leader in academic service-learning. Today, more than 300 students per semester complete service-learning placements, helping make service an integral part of the Central culture.

Reciprocal Relationships

Central now teams with more than 90 community partners across central Iowa. These partnerships excite Doane because they benefit the college, students and community. Doane explains that people often misconceive service work. “Service is sometimes portrayed as, ‘We’re going to help you.’ We look at it as reciprocal.”

A Spanish major might teach ESL to native Spanish-speakers at an area high school, or a marketing student working for a human rights group may see how classroom theories are applied in the real world. “It absolutely enhanced my learning experience,” Sedlacek recalled of her four service-learning placements. “It brought to life issues that I would not have otherwise been exposed to.”

As part of its role within a liberal arts institution, the CCBL emphasizes more than practicality. “Often when students are doing service-learning, they understand that justice issues are more complex than they seem,” says Doane. “I want them to understand that their potential is connected to the potential of the common good.”

You get what you giveDoane says most of her day is spent in conver-sation. Faculty members explain their courses, community partners outline the type of help they need and students describe what they’d like to get out of the experience. The CCBL staff listens and then matches them up in a way that suits everyone.

“She puts in countless hours,” Sedlacek says of her former colleague. Like others who have
worked around Doane, Sedlacek says it’s impossible not to notice her drive. Doane holds innumerable meetings in Des Moines and other communities as she continues to build partnerships. She also writes grants, works with the admission office to recruit service-oriented students and coordinates with national service organizations to provide financial aid for students.

“What I want for our college is to not exist in a tower,” Doane says. “I want Central College to understand the potential of community as a venue for learning.”


How did Cheri Doane or service-learning benefit you? Share with us below.

To encourage serious, intellectual discourse on Civitas, please include your first and last name when commenting. Anonymous comments will be removed.

  • Billy J. Stone


    11:26 pm on May 16, 2012


    I have opened a business that includes, tutoring, writing curriculum and designing instruction. I am also filing my business as a non-profit
    Name of Business:.
    Stone – Curriculum and Instruction Consulting

    I am visiting with a lawyer next week, and I’d like to know what would it take to have a student work with me on writing grants and researching developing a logo.

    Cheri all the service learning students you have sent to Oakridge have been knowledgeable and have good hearts.

  • Chantel Boyd


    8:30 am on May 10, 2012

    It is an honor and a privilege to work with Cheri in the CCBL. I know having this experience will serve me well in the future is I go forth and serve others, striving to uphold the model of service I learned from Cheri and others like her who lead high standard service-learning and civic engagement departments. Nonprofit agencies can provide learning experiences that classrooms can’t, and classrooms can turn out enthusiastic volunteers with expertise. This model of service and learning is win-win, and it can be applied to all aspects of life.