Civic Learning: Innovative Campus and Community-Based Practices

A Crucible Moment offers many different examples of programs, pedagogies, and parnerships for civic learning and democratic engagement. The few listed below are highlighted in order to offer a wide range of approaches that different institutions are adopting.

Also see the Fall 2012 and Winter 2013 issues of Diversity & Democracy, which features a constant succession of exemplary campus practices.

California State University, Chico
The Town Hall meetings at CSU Chico help students connect their in-class learning to the wider world of public discourse. In 2006, faculty redeveloped the curriculum for English 130, the requisite basic composition course for most first-year students. Students spent the semester reading and writing about civic participation and its role in a democratic society, and chose a topic of contemporary interest— homelessness, body image and media, environmental policy, LGBTQ rights, and First Amendment issues—as a research focus.  During the Town Hall meeting at the end of the semester, students presented on their research topics, participated in concurrent breakout sessions for small-group discussion, and met in groups with expert consultants who provided insight and advice about continued engagement with the topic. Since then, the town hall meetings have continued to evolve in structure and grow in popularity. The political science department took over the program in fall 2009, bringing the academic component into a course called American Government: National, State, and Local, which many first-year students are required to take. Older political science students who have already experienced the Town Hall will become mentors and expert participants at subsequent meetings.

Kapi'olani Community College
At Kapi’olani Community College, service-learning is recognized as a student engagement pedagogy connecting classrooms, centers and labs, campus, community, countries abroad, and the technological realm. Kapi’olani offers a series of service-learning pathways, each with a social issue focus:

  • Art, History, and Culture: This pathway emphasizes education and outreach in the arts as well as historical and cultural preservation in Hawai‘i.
  • Bridging Generations: The Bridging Generations Pathway facilitates student awareness of contemporary issues facing seniors.
  • Environment: Students in this pathway explore the challenges confronting Hawai‘i’s unique environment and learn about the interaction between humans, technology, and the natural world.
  • Health: Students help address and reduce the severity of health issues such as diabetes, cancer, and HIV/AIDS, while also participating in community outreach at health fairs and blood drives with health care professionals and social workers.
  • Education: The Education pathway provides learning support from preschool to high school through reading programs, computer literacy, tutoring, and college awareness.
  • Intercultural Perspectives: Students engage in cross-cultural interaction by participating in activities that emphasize exchanges of beliefs, practices, values, mores, language, and religion.

Miami Dade College
Miami Dade College (MDC) is the largest institution of higher education in America, welcoming 174,000 students at eight campuses and several outreach centers. As the College’s ‘civic source,’ the Institute for Civic Engagement and Democracy works “to transform learning, strengthen democracy and contribute meaningfully to the common good by awakening and empowering students for lifelong civic engagement.” The ICED is a college-wide program with a presence on each campus. Miami Dade College faculty members are part of a broader national effort to reclaim the civic mission of higher education by combining academic learning with course-related service. Data from 2010-11 indicates 291 faculty teaching 1,064 class sections had implemented civic engagement and service-learning as class requirements.

Syracuse University
Syracuse University “empower[s] students to put their learning into action on campus and in the community,” and offer opportunities for students to become “global citizens through civic engagement and service.”  The University launched its guiding initiative, Scholarship in Action, as another way to embody the institution’s “commitment to forging bold, imaginative, reciprocal, and sustained engagements with many constituent communities, local as well as global." Syracuse University collaborates with community partners in a way that has gained national recognition on how to address pressing local challenges with global resonance. In Syracuse’s Near West Side, the university has formed a nonprofit with community partners to catalyze revitalization in one of the nation’s poorest neighborhoods. Galvanizing expertise across the disciplines and professions, Syracuse University faculty and students work side by side with a diverse community of experts leveraging the arts, technology, and design to restore places and spaces and spark entrepreneurship; transforming warehouses with “green” renovations for artist live/work space and cultural centers; and rebuilding civil infrastructure to strengthen social infrastructure.

University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
Commitment to civic engagement at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh is demonstrated through curricular and co-curricular experiences involving all aspects of campus life. An outcome in the new general education framework includes: “Civic knowledge and engagement - both local and global.” In meeting these outcomes, students examine what it means to be an engaged citizen through coursework and community based activities. All students at UW Oshkosh are required to complete a volunteer experience and reflect on their development as engaged citizens. With this policy in place, UW Oshkosh has established an Office of Volunteerism to connect students, faculty, and staff to hundreds of community opportunities for service and volunteering. These efforts engage the entire campus community – all students, faculty, and staff – and reach out to involve the broader community (alumni, visitors, guests, benefactors, and other individuals and organizations reached, served, or influenced by UW Oshkosh).

Wagner College
The Wagner Plan for the Practical Liberal Arts: Reading, Writing and Doing requires that all students participate in three learning communities centered on practical application of knowledge and stewardship of place. The first year and senior learning communities require 30 and 100 hours respectively of experiential learning in the community. To complement their curricular Wagner Plan, in 2006 Wagner College formed a comprehensive partnership with thePort Richmond neighborhood of Staten Island (pop. 500,000). This economically challenged community comprises 37% Latinos, primarily undocumented Mexicans, 17% African Americans, and 40% white working class residents. The Partnership aligns a full spectrum of Wagner courses with the aim of creating measurable community impacts: to help fight obesity and diabetes, to increase college readiness and teacher success, to promote small business development, and to address immigration issues.

Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI)
WPI students engage in fostering civic inquiry through project-based learning throughout their course of study. First-year students enroll in the Great Problems Seminar (GPS). This two-course introduction focuses on themes of current global importance and is tied to current events, societal problems, and human needs. Five team-taught, interdisciplinary seminars center around Educating the World, Feeding the World, Healing the World, Powering the World, and Grand Challenges, which focuses on engineering and sustainable development. Students are introduced to a broad sweep of scholarship and then work in small groups to define a specific problem, research its dimensions, and offer a public strategy for addressing their chosen issueThe culminating event is a poster session where each student group presents their project ideas and results. During junior year, students complete the Interactive Qualifying Project(IQP), which challenges them to address a problem that lies at the intersection of science or technology with social issues and human needs. The objective is to enable WPI graduates to understand, as citizens and as professionals, how their careers will affect the larger society. About 60% of all IQPs are at one of WPI’s project centers in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Australia, or Europe. In senior year, students complete a Major Qualifying Project (MQP), which asks them to synthesize all previous study to solve problems or perform tasks in their major field with confidence, and communicate the results effectively.

Project Pericles
Civic Engagement in the Classroom: Strategies for Incorporating Education for Civic and Social Responsibility in the Undergraduate Classroom (2009)shares the lessons learned from the Project Pericles signature CEC program. Since 2004 the program has awarded more than 100 matching grants to Periclean faculty members to develop and teach innovative courses that address issues of social concern across disciplines in the fine arts, humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. The White Paper, based on an analysis of the CEC courses from 2007 to 2009, includes a description of the knowledge gained from the CEC program and guidance on transferability to other institutions and disciplines; Best Practices that can be applied on a wide range of campuses; and an extensive bibliography. This program received generous support from the Christian A. Johnson Endeavor Foundation, the Teagle Foundation, and the Eugene M. Lang Foundation.

AAC&U offers these resources only as possible models of interest and has not submitted each of them to any substantial peer or quality review. If you have questions about any particular resource, please contact the institution sponsoring it directly.