This fall NAC&U will launch a Civic Engagement Collaborative (CEC) that will bring campus, community and student leaders together through reciprocal community-based partnerships that encourage opportunities for social innovation while deepening members’ shared commitment to civic engagement. The first collaborative project will focus on pre-K to 12 education issues that are important to the various communities, whether it is literacy, graduation rates or other forms of youth empowerment.
Organizing an effort of this magnitude across a nationwide consortium required dedicated coordinators. Nuala Boyle, director of the Center for Civic Engagement at Nazareth College, and Samantha Siegel, director of the Center for Leadership and Community Engagement of Wagner College, spent the 2014-15 academic year initiating and directing conferences calls and a planning meeting to move forward with the CEC. The group also met prior to the Summer Institute at Hamline University where they had the opportunity to discuss the CEC with 2015 Boyer Award recipient Ira Harkavy, associate vice president and founding director of The Netter Center for Community Partnerships at the University of Pennsylvania.
“There is a value in gathering together in person and becoming a physical ‘community of practice,’” said Boyle. “In meeting with other Civic Engagement representatives for pre-conference meetings at the Summer Institute, we were able to share resources, educate each other, and increase our knowledge within our field and share outcomes. Getting together also provided opportunities for networking and brainstorming ways of strengthening our institution’s focus on community engaged teaching and learning.”
Launching the CEC
The CEC will not dictate curriculum and assessments but rather rely on those determined by individual members and then allow the strengths of each institution to determine the contribution to the CEC.
Boyle explained that there wouldn’t be a required script for the workshops and trainings that members must offer since civic engagement partnerships have varied orientation, preparedness and training curriculum. For example, Nazareth students who work at School #46 in Rochester, NY, (Nazareth’s CEC project) participate in trainings and workshops on literacy, diversity, leadership and urban education, among other orientations and trainings. They also participate in structured reflections during and at the end of the semester.
Assessments also will depend on desired outcomes from the community partner and the college/university. That said, CEC leaders are encouraging participating campuses to follow the AAC&U “Civic Engagement” value rubric to strengthen the partnerships’ student learning outcomes.
To date, more than half of NAC&U members across the country have identified partnerships (some new, others pre-existing) that address needs and aspirations of pre-K to 12 organizations in their communities. Four institutions, including Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio, are developing new programs. While there are already informal relationships between Ohio Northern and the rural Ada school district, the university plans to use CEC as a catalyst to form a systematic intervention with the schools. Other CEC programs are established but still in their infancy, such as the 2-year-old Nazareth program at School #46 and Pacific Lutheran University’s Parkland Education Initiative which aims to reduce absenteeism, increase academic success and support a college-going culture. In fact, college readiness is a targeted goal in the longest standing partnership in the CEC. The 27-year-old Junior/Senior Scholars, a partnership between North Central College and schools in Aurora and Chicago, Ill., allows 200 North Central students to mentor and tutor elementary and secondary school students so that they have the support they need to graduate and go on to college.
During a presentation at the Summer Institute, Boyle spoke about the importance of sustainable civic engagement, saying, “A one-time dip doesn’t do our communities any good.” She added that NAC&U was equipped to launch the CEC because civic engagement is recognized as a primary means of achieving institutional goals.
“Civic engagement is a high impact practice that utilizes engaged learning, which produces engaged learners as well as engaged institutions that are working with their communities to improve society and the human condition,” said Boyle. “NAC&U is the only consortium that recognizes civic engagement as a goal that is equal to the pursuit of liberal arts and professional studies.”