The NAC&U Civic Engagement Collaborative (CEC) is gathering steam as coordinators from Belmont University, Nazareth College, North Central College, Pacific Lutheran University, University of La Verne and Wagner College met at the University of La Verne – in person and via Skype – to discuss next steps for the group. At the 2015 Summer Institute, the newly created CEC announced that it would focus on preK-12 civic engagement projects at participating campuses in an effort to increase the impact on student learning, strengthen each campuses’ local effect in their communities, and provide research-sharing and publication opportunities for NAC&U faculty and staff. To date, 12 NAC&U members are participating in the CEC, including those listed above and Drury University, Hamline University, Ohio Northern University, Samford University, The Sage Colleges, and The University of Scranton.
CEC co-chair Marisol Morales, director of Civic and Community Engagement at the University of La Verne, said that the meeting gave them a good opportunity to learn about each other’s structures, key programs and assessments. Morales said that the ability to share their highlights and challenges with like-minded peer institutions proved helpful, as it does for other constituency groups within NAC&U, because NAC&U members have a similar size and structure along with a commitment to liberal arts, professional studies and civic engagement.
While there are many similarities, there are also significant differences. Some have centralized civic engagement departments/offices while others are run from different programs on the campus; some are co-curricular while others are embedded in the curriculum.
For that reason, the CEC will not aim to standardize curriculum and programming but rather allow the strengths of each institution to determine its contribution to the CEC. For a starting point, CEC leaders are encouraging participating campuses to follow the AAC&U Civic Engagement VALUE rubric to strengthen student learning outcomes. The CEC plans to do a longitudinal study to determine the impact of civic engagement – both on students and the community.
She added that while many projects have tangible results, such as a mural that’s improved the aesthetics of an area or shelves that are fully stocked at the food pantry, it’s necessary to look at the long-term effect for students and the community.
“We can see the needle moving but it’s hard to capture the full impact,” said Tooker.
After the meeting at the University of La Verne, Tooker said she felt like the CEC is turning the corner on knowing how to assess the work that institutions are doing and what data is needed to determine the impact of civic engagement. She added that it was fitting that NAC&U study the effect of civic engagement on student learning as all NAC&U campuses recognize it as a primary means of achieving institutional goals.
‘Meeting as a group helped us to fully think about the questions that we should be asking in terms of assessment,” said Tooker.
The CEC plans to meet twice yearly but is also looking for other venues in which members might be present, including the upcoming Campus Compact meeting in Boston this March. They’re also considering breaking into smaller groups for more frequent conversations in between their gatherings as a large group twice a year.
Institutions not currently participating in the CEC are welcome to join by selecting a new or existing preK-12 civic engagement partnership. The CEC has three co-chairs – Marisol Morales, director of Civic and Community Engagement at the University of La Verne; Pat Tooker, dean of Integrated Learning in the Center for Leadership and Engagement at Wagner College; and Nuala Boyle, director of the Center for Civic Engagement at Nazareth College. For information on joining the CEC community, please contact Nuala Boyle.