Monday, November 24, 2014

Anchorage Point-in-Time Homeless Youth Count

Kathi Trawver and Donna Aguiniga, School of Social Work, created a project with Covenant House, Alaska Youth Advocates and Parachutes with their mini-grant from the Center for Community Engagement & Learning last spring semester.  Twenty-five undergraduates assisted with the project, along with a Community-Engaged Student Assistant (CESA) who supported the faculty in recruiting and training community volunteers.  Volunteers were trained to conduct an assertive point-in-time outreach count of Anchorage's homeless youth. Trawver and Aguiniga provided data entry and analysis, and presented results to community partners.

Covenant House in Anchorage, AK 

Trawver and Aguiniga described their project as follows: 

We developed this research project in response to a compelling community need (i.e., a gross undercount of homeless youth during federally mandated annual point-in-time counts) that resulted in an opportunity for approximately 25 students to become engaged in their community.   In partnership with community providers, faculty developed an outreach training and survey instrument. On January 29, 2014, student volunteers paired with an agency outreach worker conducted outreach interviews across the city over a 24-hour time-period. During the count, we helped manage a centralized deployment center, inputted all returned data, and provided support and debriefing to returning volunteer students.   

Point in Time Survey for Homeless Youth 2014 

Students involved in this project became intimately aware of the complex issues related to homeless youth in our community. Through training sessions provided by community professionals and formerly homeless youth and conducting community outreach interviews, students gained valuable field experience under the mentorship of professional community partners and UAA faculty.   Our team conducted more than 70 interviews of homeless youth, almost double the number who were identified the prior year! Following the event, we conducted an analysis of the data and presented aggregated results to our community partners. Student volunteers also assisted agency staff by taking part in an outreach after-party for participating youth.   

Trawver and Aguiniga explained that community providers don't often have data given back to them in a way in which they can use it for effective program planning.  This project gave the community partners control over the data that was collected and allowed them to receive results quickly.  They plan a continued collaboration and another outreach project in January 2015.  They also plan to publish the results of their collaboration and present this as a project model to state homeless providers and policy makers.  

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Friday, September 5, 2014

A New Semester - Fall 2014!

As the new semester begins, so much gets underway - preparing for classes, whether you're faculty or students, getting all of the paperwork done and accurate, bringing our attention once again to teaching and learning, and in our case, engaging. 

Community engagement runs the risk of being today a buzz phrase, words rendered meaningless by the countless ways and settings in which it is used.  In the Center for Community Engagement & Learning and in our attempts to create a culture of engagement throughout the university, community engagement is, as defined by The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, "the collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities (local, regional/state, national, global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity."  

Carnegie goes on to explain the purpose of community engagement as, "the partnership of college and university knowledge and resources with those of the public and private sectors to enrich scholarship, research, and creative activity; enhance curriculum, teaching and learning; prepare educated, engaged citizens; strengthen democratic values and civic responsibility; address critical societal issues; and contribute to the public good."  This is a tall order, but is, in fact, what many faculty at UAA are inspired about creating in their courses, with their students. 

 It's also often what inspires students, as the following selected quotes demonstrate: 

     “As I have taken a few sociology classes and read books on environmental justice, the problems      that arise with a low-income life are not unfamiliar to me.  However, it is completely different to      read about than it is to actually see it.  The 20 hours I spent at the Boys and Girls Club provided me with legitimate connections to the world I had only previously heard about as statistics.”

    “The [service learning] experience at RAIS left me with a new friend and a new understanding.  The refugees did not simply receive help from me, but they taught me about myself.”

      “After taking this class I have learned that social problems can indeed be fought.  Not every problem has a clear solution or can be solved in a single step.  Each step gets us closer to fixing the problem and every step counts.”

Read more in Teaching Excellence in an Engaged University, a publication that highlights stories of engagement across disciplines at UAA on our website at 

Friday, April 11, 2014

An Engaged University - Provost Elisha "Bear" Baker

This month we have a "guest blogger" -- our Provost, Bear Baker 

As a new graduate of Clemson University, I was hired as faculty in the mid-1970s, just as the textile industry went off-shore.  It was the only industry left in South Carolina, and it was a real crush.  The state legislature turned to the university and said, “Help us to create an economy.”  That’s how I’ve viewed what a university is for, first as a new faculty member, then as Dean of the College of Business & Public Policy, and now as the chief academic administrator.  

All of my life I’ve been out there engaging with community and getting students engaged.  It’s good for the community and good experience for our students.  My philosophy is, “If we’re not connected to community, why should our community see value in our university?”  Universities are being challenged more than ever to contribute to their communities.  As Provost of UAA, I recognize that we are one of those universities. 

We are grateful to have a community that works with us and with our students, getting them involved in real-life projects.   A group of civil engineering students this spring is working with their professor and the Fairview Community Council to design a better snow removal process, a critical need here in Anchorage.  Our nursing students are traveling out to rural communities in Alaska and doing health screenings for youngsters to keep Headstarts open.    In every college of the university, I can find projects and partnerships that remind me of the work our community and state are doing with us and the difference it makes for all of us.

We want to make very visible our commitment to improving student success while helping with real needs in the community and getting our faculty involved too.  I’m committed to working with the Municipality of Anchorage and the State of Alaska in the same way that I was committed in my early days as faculty for Clemson University and the state of South Carolina.  I’ve never stopped doing that.  “How can we help, and in what ways can we be partners to realize the very best outcomes for our students, our communities and the state of Alaska?”  

We’ve become an engaged university, and we welcome input from everyone – students, faculty and community members - as to what more we can do to be in this reciprocal partnership – one community, one university.  The Center for Community Engagement & Learning is a portal to our university for community engagement, as well as my office.  UAA was one of only sixty-two universities nationwide to receive designations from The Carnegie Foundation for curricular engagement and outreach and partnerships in 2006 and again in 2010. This year, UAA will apply again for that designation as “An Engaged University,” trusting that our many and deep relationships with community organizations and state agencies in Alaska demonstrate our commitment to community partnership.  The Carnegie recognition nationwide affirms the value of the opportunities that we have in working together. 

Provost  Elisha “Bear” Baker 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Community Engagement in Action: The Civic Health of a Campus

Civic Health can be defined as "the measure of the civic, social, and political strength of a community" (consensus definition of the American Democracy Project campuses, 2013).  Our 22 campuses engaged together with the ADP Civic Health Initiative project are reviewing our campus civic health as well as the civic health of our communities.  Students in CEL A392 Advanced Civic Health: Community Inquiry & Action, began a review of the community-engaged courses at UAA in Fall of 2013, and the project will continue in Spring 2014.  The students were involved in a participatory action research project that had them working with our Provost-appointed Community Engagement Task Force at UAA.  The Task Force was working on an instrument to designate community-engaged courses and also attempting to collect information on the courses at UAA that would already be designated as community-engaged.

Students noted that as community engagement has become more prevalent in education, universities across the country are measuring the civic health of their campuses (Malm & colleagues, 2013).  UAA received the Carnegie designation for Community Engagement as part of the original cohort in 2006 and was re-designated in 2010.  Currently, UAA as well as other universities are invited to re-apply for designation for 2015 and every 5 years thereafter. The Foundation defines community engagement as "the collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities (local, regional/state, national, global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity"(

UAA Community Engagement Task Force meeting photo
Professor Tracey Burke chairs the Community Engagement Task Force
Integrating community experience with student's academic work is thought to be one of the best ways to prepare students for civic life (Kellogg Commission, 1999), and service-learning is designated by the American Association of Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) as one of six high impact practices.  Students in CEL A392 determined that the UAA campus offers 109 community-engaged courses in 28 different departments with 82 different instructors.  More than 2,000 students enrolled in community-engaged courses in 2012-13.  This is an underestimate of enrollment in community engagement, since response is voluntary, and we have not heard from all faculty.  Students in the course worked with other universities as well to review other methods of designating courses as community engaged and proposed a designation system to the Community Engagement Task Force that will now be forwarded for approval to the UAA Faculty Senate.

So what will the Spring CEL A392 students do?  The spring class will continue to work with the Task Force as a "community partner" and develop a survey of the 82 faculty who are designated as having taught a community-engaged course in 2012-13.  The survey will be short and designed to determine the number of hours that students devote to community engagement, the outcomes for students and community partners, and the type of work that students do while engaged in the community.

Malm, E., Rademacher, N., Dunbar, D., Harris, M., McLaughlin, E., U Nielsen, C. (2013).  Cultivating community-engaged faculty: The institution's role in individual journeys. Journal of Community Engagement and Higher education, 5, 1, pp. 24-35.