Geraldine Stirtz, coordinator of the Office for Service Learning at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, has received the 2011 Excellence in National Service award.

The award, which is from the Nebraska Volunteer Service Commission, was presented to Stirtz by Sally Ganem, Nebraska’s First Lady, during the First Lady’s Outstanding Community Service Awards Luncheon in Lincoln. In all, 14 awards were presented during the event.

Stirtz has been coordinator for the UNK Office of Service-Learning since 1990. As coordinator, she recruits and oversees the AmeriCorps program on campus. AmeriCorps is often described as the “domestic Peace Corps.” Stirtz has also been an integral part of the Midwest Consortium for Service-Learning in Higher Education, providing leadership and grant-writing skills that have produced financial support for the programs.

In nominating Stirtz for the award, Dr. Wendy McCarty, a senior lecturer in the UNK Department of Teacher Education, noted: “She has mentored countless numbers of students, college faculty, Pre-K-12 teachers and AmeriCorps/Vista workers through completion of their service-learning experiences, as well as functioning as the primary university-community organization liaison to coordinate service learning projects.”

Stirtz created an online graduate credit course for instructors to learn and apply service-learning in their own classrooms. In addition, she has coordinated and conducted professional development for UNK faculty for bring service-learning into their coursework.

“Gerry is a tireless advocate for volunteerism and service on the UNK campus and within the Kearney community, Buffalo County and far beyond,” Dr. McCarty said. “Her leadership and mentoring skills have assured that the mission of ‘serving to learn’ and ‘learning to serve’ will be carried far into the future.”

Stirtz has also served on the board of the Kearney Concert Association and has been a part of the Axtell Oratorio Society for many years. Both organizations use volunteers to bring music and entertainment to Central Nebraska. She has also worked with United Way of the Kearney Area to use Service-Learning Pro. Service-Learning Pro is a tracking system for volunteer hours that is also being used on the UNK campus to assist instructors in helping students track their volunteer hours.

According to the Nebraska Volunteer Service Commission, Nebraskans consistently rank among the Top 5 nationally for volunteerism and community engagement. Each year, it is estimated that more than 500,000 Nebraskans volunteer in excess of 67 million hours of service. Their time is valued at $1.4 billion. A major part of why Nebraska volunteerism continues to grow is the vast network of national service members and volunteers across Nebraska.

For more information about service learning at UNK: http://www.unk.edu/servicelearning/