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"(http://classifications.carnegiefoundation.org/descriptions/community_engagement.php).

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. 

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