University volunteer Tyler Kamnikar serves as teacher and student in JA classroom

Tyler Kamnikar had no idea that he’d become a local celebrity when he began his academic service learning experience with Junior Achievement-Rocky Mountain (JA) at Foundations Academy in Brighton. A culinary arts student at Johnson & Wales University (JWU), Tyler joined other students from his Foundations of Leadership Theory class for a JA in a Day experience where he taught 4th grade students about goods and services and what it takes to operate a successful business.

Tyler’s efforts are part of JA’s College Connect program presented by TIAA. JA engages college students as volunteers through service learning projects. Last year, JA partnered with four local universities to bring college volunteers and role models to more than 9,500 elementary and middle school students.

“I volunteered in my chef coat and told the kids about my college experience and career choice,” Tyler said. “At the end of the day, a couple of the students asked for an autograph! They told me that I’d be a famous chef one day. Before I knew it, every single one of the kids wanted my autograph. It was definitely a memorable experience.”

The majority of JA College Connect student volunteers share that through JA they develop an appreciation of diverse backgrounds in the community; increase their confidence in their ability to make a difference; and enhanced their sense of civic responsibility. That certainly was true for Tyler.

“I never thought I was good with kids, but after teaching with JA, I feel much more comfortable with the younger crowd,” said Tyler. “They had wonderful answers to questions – some were really funny – and they gave me a different viewpoint on many topics.”

Tyler also shared that his JA College Connect experience helped him stretch outside of his comfort zone. “The biggest challenge was preparing and teaching the class by myself . . . it was nerve-racking, but overall it was a great experience and more fun than I expected.”

A growing practice on college campuses, service learning is a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities. JWU has embraced service learning and incorporates it into several of its course offerings.

“Service-learning is an integral part of academic life on our Denver Campus,” said Rena Dulberg, Director of Campus Academic Initiatives at JWU. “The premise is based on the shared value proposition that both students and community-based organizations benefit from collaboration. Many students say that their community experiences open their eyes to issues they weren’t aware of and help them identify the skills they can offer to others. Ultimately, we hope our students walk away with a broader definition of what it means to be an educated citizen and the confidence to put their skills to use for the greater good.”

For Tyler Kamnikar, his JA service learning experience was challenging, fun and rewarding. He made a meaningful contribution to the students he taught, and helped them see possibilities for their futures. Tyler also learned a few things about himself and his abilities, as well as his community, and, thanks to his students, he experienced being a celebrity chef – if only for a day.