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Syracuse University: Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs

Anne E. Mosher
Chair, Maxwell Program in Citizenship and Civic Engagement

Kate Canada
Program Coordinator, Maxwell Program in Citizenship and Civic Engagement

 

Description
The Maxwell Program in Citizenship and Civic Engagement (CCE) is a double-major B.A. program. Located at Syracuse University—a national private research university that is home to roughly 16,000 undergraduate students—CCE builds upon the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs’ century-long commitment to, and experience doing, teaching and research in the public interest. In the program, students take their learning from their other major(s) and transform it into publicly engaged scholarship and community-based projects that address societal issues of their choice. The Syracuse metropolitan area (pop. 660,000) presents a wide variety of venues where they can do this work collaboratively with local nonprofits, government agencies as well as social enterprise initiatives.   
High school seniors can declare the CCE major when they apply to Syracuse and add the other “companion major” later; or, current Syracuse University students can apply to CCE during their first and second years on campus. Class year cohorts are limited to 30 students to enable individualized advising while students take a required suite of six courses (18 credits) and complete a customized slate of 15 “connective coursework” credits. (http://coursecatalog.syr.edu/preview_program.php?catoid=13&poid=6498&returnto=1731)

 Through this curriculum, CCE majors learn how to:

  • contrast a wide range of theories associated with civil society, citizenship and democratic engagement (MAX 301);
  • interpret and work within the nuanced contours of the public and nonprofit spheres in a real place (MAX 310); and,
  • conduct original social science research (MAX 302) and develop community-based interventions on pressing societal problems that impact civic life (MAX 401).

Starting during the second year in the program in MAX 310, each student has an 8-to-10 hour per week community placement at a nonprofit organization, government agency, elected official’s office, community foundation, or private firm that displays a philanthropic presence in upstate New York. Off-campus relationships forged during the placement remain important through the senior year, by which time each CCE student is expected to have designed and started implementing a viable, sustainable, community-based “action plan” project in MAX 401.  CCE graduates thus leave campus with a portfolio that: 1) displays their civic learning and community engagement experiences, and 2) conveys how they have contributed positively to the co-creation of civil society. For an overview of our students’ activities and our curriculum, see our most recent annual newsletter at https://www.maxwell.syr.edu/citizenship.

Scaffolded Levels of Student Learning

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Civic learning associated with CCE begins during the first year of college with a choice of one of two “Maxwell Signature Courses” at the introductory level: MAX 123—Critical Issues for the United States or MAX 132—Global Community. Both of these courses are large, general audience, lecture hall courses and are team-taught by tenured Maxwell faculty from across the social science departments (anthropology, economics, history, international relations, geography, political science, and sociology). The courses consist of a weekly plenary session and two additional small discussion section meetings per week. Both courses are “writing intensive” and satisfy the “critical reflections” requirements of the College of Arts and Sciences Liberal Arts Core Curriculum.  MAX 123, in particular, rests on intense engagement with the ideas of deliberative and participatory citizenship. The course intentionally and respectfully addresses current societal issues from a variety of ideological perspectives.  It provides the philosophical foundation on which CCE builds. MAX 123 and 132 also serve as the main on-campus recruiting venues for each CCE class year cohort.

The specialized CCE “for majors only” curriculum begins during the second year at Syracuse University when students enroll in two courses simultaneously: MAX 301—Justice, Ethics, and Citizenship and MAX 310—Community Placement. MAX 301, delivered as a seminar to between 7 and 17 students each semester, takes a deep dive into three aspects of civic life: 1) civic agency and the co-creation of the commons, 2) theoretical and practical approaches to deliberative and participatory citizenship within democracies, and 3) social activism and social movements across the ideological spectrum. MAX 310 consists of periodic seminar meetings, 8-10 hours per week at a community placement of the student’s choice, and weekly blogging about the placement. MAX 310 seminars are devoted to discussions about various aspects of civil society in practice as well as organizational dynamics, including the challenges of nonprofit funding, public budgeting, volunteer management, community relations, and leadership during times of crisis. During the MAX 310 community placement, students also begin discussing with community partners possible ideas for action plan projects during the senior year.  On the basis of the civic learning that takes place in both MAX 301 and MAX 310 this semester, students start identifying appropriate classes to take to fulfil the CCE major’s connective coursework requirements, and look ahead to the third year at Syracuse University when they will be conducting independent research.

The junior year required curriculum consists of MAX 302—Civic Engagement Research Seminar during which students produce a research proposal, literature review and annotated bibliography, research report (including the findings from independent, original research conducted specifically for MAX 302 and CCE), and a research poster/one-pager. This work helps students develop familiarity with the academic literature and public policies pertaining to the societal issue on which they will most likely intervene during their senior year action plan project.  A specific course requirement is that they base part of their research in the community where their action planning will occur. Students also learn about the philosophy and ethics of community-based research, become IRB certified for doing human subjects research, and design their MAX 302 research projects accordingly.

MAX 401—Action Plan Workshop serves as the culmination of the CCE curriculum. The basic requirement is that students propose a community-based intervention that is practical, sustainable, ethical, and done collaboratively with community partners and/or stakeholders. An important component of the Action Plan report submitted at the end of the course is an op-ed piece suitable for submission to a local media outlet and a personal reflection on the ways in which the work accomplished relates to the civic themes of MAX 301.  Students also make a public presentation of their action plan project, open to the entire Syracuse University community.  Since Fall 2015, the first semester the course was offered, many of the 52 students to complete the major have implemented projects that can be assessed for real outcomes and impacts.

Exemplary Courses That Highlight a Civic Lens
MAX 301: Ethics, Justice, and Citizenship
Course Summary
Max 301 is one-half of the required second-year curriculum for CCE. It examines theories and practices of democratic citizenship and civic engagement, including multiple ways of thinking about, and enacting, civic agency. Designed as a discussion-based seminar for between 12 and 17 second-year undergraduate majors each semester, the course begins with a review of major theories of democracy and citizenship. Then, it examines how conservative, liberal, radical left and far right approaches to civic engagement differentially activate values, the analysis of social facts, and forms of collective action. The course concludes by questioning the contested comingling of these civic engagement forms on college campuses, as reflected in debates over controversial guest speakers. Students thus discuss and form conclusions regarding the ways in which differing values, and different kinds of knowledge, shape the practices of collective action through which citizens “co-create” society and shape the future.

Exemplary Project Descriptions
Since the program’s inception, seniors in MAX 401: Civic Engagement Action Plan Workshop have completed a wide variety of projects. Given that each student has: 1) their own “world’s problem”/societal issue to tackle, 2) a unique community partner organization with whom to work, and 3) a customized set of “connective coursework” experiences on which to build, student projects look and come together in different ways. To afford maximum flexibility, the instructors have very ingeniously constructed a pre-set sequence of benchmarks that students work through at their own pace. To learn more about the value of this course to the civic learning experience, see our 2017 annual newsletter at https://www.maxwell.syr.edu/citizenship/.

One of the most important lessons that CCE students learn from doing the Action Plan is how to be “situationally nimble.” A great example of this is the work that Andrea López (SU BA ’16 CCE/International Relations/Latin American Studies) did with La Casita Cultural Center on Syracuse’s Near Westside. La Casita is the home base for Syracuse University’s cultural, educational, and artistic collaborations with Central New York’s Hispanic communities. At La Casita, SU students can put skills and knowledge learned in the classroom into community practice. For Andrea, this meant applying social science research methods from Maxwell School/College of Arts and Sciences courses to help La Casita’s staff design events and projects with the neighborhood’s demographics in mind. While doing this research, Andrea learned about the high rate of Hispanic population turnover in the neighborhood. She decided to do an Action Plan that would put a program in place to help new arrivals become familiar with the Near Westside and Syracuse.

Right when Andrea was commencing work on this project, however, La Casita faced a crisis. The regional transportation system servicing the organization changed its bus schedule and routing and, as a result, the number of active volunteers and interns at La Casita plummeted. This caused a shift in responsibilities and increase in the workload for the regular staff. Andrea, in consultation with La Casita, decided to change her CCE Action Plan to tackle the transportation problem. She collected more data, this time on La Casita’s student employees, volunteers and interns and established the important contribution that student labor made toward making La Casita a vibrant community asset. Armed with this information, she helped formalize a transportation agreement between La Casita and SU’s Mary Ann Shaw Center for Public and Community Service to take students from campus directly to La Casita between Monday and Friday. To help students understand the new transportation arrangement, she created a volunteer orientation manual. In May 2016, for MAX 401 she also wrote an op-ed piece for the student-run Daily Orange newspaper.

According to Teresita Paniagua, the Executive Director of the SU College of Arts and Science’s Office of Cultural Engagement for the Hispanic Community, Andrea’s op-ed “power-charged our own efforts to get the word out about the transportation.” As a result, SU officials worked with local transportation authorities to get the bus schedule and routing linking campus and La Casita reinstated for Fall Semester 2016.

After graduation in May 2016, Andrea returned home to Puerto Rico to take a job as a Project Assistant in the Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics. Among her many responsibilities is the creation of a Board that will link the Institute with non-governmental organizations that aid at-risk communities.

Process for Adoption
CREATING A CIVIC LEARNING MAJOR “FROM SCRATCH” USING EXISTING ASSETS

PHASE I: THEMATIC EXPLORATION (2010-2011)
Then-Syracuse University Provost Eric Spina and then-Maxwell School Dean Mitchell Wallerstein in 2010 convened a planning committee to explore the creation of an interdisciplinary undergraduate major that would build on the signature strengths of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. Known internationally for discipline-based and interdisciplinary graduate education, prospective undergraduates often do not realize that the Maxwell School also offers a variety of undergraduate social science major degrees. What was lacking, Spina and Wallerstein believed, was an undergraduate interdisciplinary learning experience that not only mirrors what happens at the graduate level across the school but that would also underscore to the world that the Maxwell School provides undergraduate civic learning and social science education experiences.

Faculty representatives from every Maxwell social science department spent Summer 2010 discussing this idea. After ascertaining that Maxwell actually needed and could support a new undergraduate program without detriment to existing undergraduate educational experiences within the school, the committee started addressing program content. Members gradually gravitated toward the applied community-based work that occurs at the graduate and faculty level in the School’s interdisciplinary centers and institutes. They thought that more undergraduate students ought to have access to this sort of applied interdisciplinary academic experience.  This led to intense conversations about how each department participates in these endeavors.  The committee further agreed that citizenship and civic engagement are galvanizing concepts that have been an integral part of Maxwell’s DNA since the school’s founding in the 1920s. Once the committee had come to these common understandings, it moved on to a phase of curriculum and course design.  

PHASE II: PROGRAM CURRICULUM AND COURSE DEVELOPMENT (2011-2013)
Between 2011 and 2013, the planning committee developed formal program and course proposals for the new major. This included coming up with the name: Maxwell Program in Citizenship and Civic Engagement. The committee also created a Faculty Advisory Board (FAB). The FAB is charged with:

  • reviewing program operation
  • evaluating the performance of a Faculty Chair (appointed by the Dean with input from the FAB)
  • participating in student recruitment, teaching, and advancement and development.

The Maxwell faculty, Syracuse University Senate, and the New York State Education Department approved the curriculum, the Maxwell Dean appointed a chair (Dr. Paul Hagenloh, Department of History, Syracuse University), and the Chair and FAB hired the first program coordinator, Lisa M. Fasolo-Frishman.

PHASE III: RECRUITMENT AND PROGRAM ROLLOUT (2013-2015)
During 2013, on-campus recruitment started with the Class of 2016 (21 students). In 2014, CCE admitted the first high school students for the Class of 2018 (four students in a cohort that has since grown to 25). Courses rolled out according to the following schedule:

First Offering

Course

Level

Preexisting Course Assets (Developed in the 1980s)

MAX 123, 132, 201

1st-Year Courses

Fall 2013

MAX 301: Justice, Ethics and Citizenship (included Community Placement)

2nd-Year Course

Fall 2014

MAX 302: Civic Engagement Research Seminar

3rd-Year Course

Fall 2015

MAX 401: Civic Engagement Action Plan Workshop

4th-Year Course

Fall 2016

MAX 310: Community Placement (course component separated from MAX 301 to allow for a more meaningful community placement experience)

2nd-Year Course

In 2015, CCE developed course and program learning outcomes in accordance with Middle States Commission on Higher Education guidelines.

PHASE IV: FULL OPERATION (2016 - Present)
Having graduated two class cohorts (as of May 2017), the program now has 38 engaged and enthusiastic alumni who are working in the public sector, nonprofit organizations, and private enterprise; or, they have moved on to graduate school. As CCE’s “pioneers,” they stay in touch with program staff, faculty, and current students and are building an alumni network. The program also enjoys the benefits of the strong relationship between Maxwell School Dean David M. Van Slyke and College of Arts and Sciences Dean Karin Ruhlandt and their leadership teams. CCE also has working partnerships with the SU Office of Admissions, the Renee Crown University Honors Program, SU’s Mary Anne Shaw Center for Public and Community Service, and SU Abroad.  Dr. Anne Mosher (Department of Geography, Syracuse University) currently serves as Faculty Chair and Kate Canada is the Program Coordinator.

Mosher conducted the first full program assessment in 2016 from which the FAB approved several changes in course content and connective coursework choices, with plans on the near horizon for accommodating international community placements and senior action plans focused on communities outside of Central New York. As of January 2018, there are 98 students enrolled in the program.

Internal and External Influences
When the committee began planning CCE in 2010, it deliberately avoided looking at what other institutions had done. The committee’s initial goal was to analyze the Maxwell School as a unique educational asset, and to understand better the connective tissue among the undergraduate programs. Members looked closely at the founding premises of the School, its history within the university, and the contributions its faculty and students had made to social science, public policy, and the practices of public administration and governance at all levels. Given the make-up of the committee—from every department in the school—members also spent time learning about each other.

The committee determined that the themes of citizenship and civic engagement coursed throughout Maxwell, through every department, without exception. Deliberative, participatory and activist civic education is who WE (Maxwell) are. Maxwell faculty and students have also been doing civic and community engagement education as well as community-based work for more than 80 years, making CCE a natural extension of what we already do. In developing a program around these themes, the committee ensured that every Maxwell department could help direct, teach within, and advise students in, the program. The CCE program thus operates as a school-wide asset.

The committee sketched out CCE’s initial curriculum keeping this in mind. Then, in 2011, the committee started consulting with experts from elsewhere on campus who were working closely with AAC&U, Campus Compact, Imagining America, Bringing Theory to Practice, Kettering, as well as preparing Syracuse University’s Carnegie Civic Classification recertification. These consultants helped the committee take something uniquely Maxwell and reinforce a nationally accepted set of best practices for community-based, publicly engaged scholarship and project-based learning. Today, CCE staff and faculty also meet frequently with the community placement organizations that our students pick; we consider these civic agents to be our most important consultants and partners. Without them, there is no civic engagement in CCE!

During 2017, CCE also forged connections with the network of practitioners and scholars who attend the Frontiers of Democracy Conference and Summer Institute for Civic Studies at Tufts University. We are delighted to be a new node in this vibrant national ecosystem. During AY 2017-2018, CCE is also hosting a collaborative faculty-student project with funds from Campus Compact’s Fund for Positive Campus Engagement.

Engagement specialists at other universities are now reaching out to CCE to learn how this program came together. Most seek ways to go beyond offering stand-alone community-based learning experiences, certificate programs and minors, and are exploring how to offer full-fledged majors in civic and community engagement as well as publicly engaged scholarship. CCE staff and faculty are happy to share our experiences with them and look forward to having conversations with others.

Evidence
As a new, small, “boutique” major, CCE does not yet have enough longitudinal data to provide much more than anecdotal statements regarding program outcomes. We are, however, hitting our high school and class cohort recruitment targets. Please see the Annual Newsletter to get a sense of the spirit of camaraderie and civic-mindedness that has emerged among CCE students.

Nevertheless, CCE can provide the results of our annual learning outcomes assessment, conducted as required by Syracuse University and suggested by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.  

Words of Advice

  • A great way to start building civic and democratic learning into a program or course is to learn YOUR institution’s/department’s shared philosophy toward: 1) civic life, and 2) commonly held attitudes about the roles that students will be playing in civic life after graduation. Those philosophies and attitudes are assets upon which you can build. Then, we would say consult the AAC&U, Campus Compact, and Kettering playbooks about best practices and see how they might mesh with, and improve, what you already have. 
  • CCE launched successfully because we took a close look at the Maxwell School’s strengths, weaknesses, and shared values. For several months during Phase I: Thematic Exploration, the planning committee discussed whether or not the existence of a new major in our school was an opportunity or a threat to existing programs. That debate led to a decision to create CCE as a double major program in which students from any Maxwell School and College of Arts and Sciences major program could participate (we have since expanded our target student audience to other schools and colleges).  CCE intentionally enhances the learning experiences already offered across campus by helping students discover through CCE’s courses how their companion majors can contribute to the public good. This idea had not been in anyone’s thinking when the committee started its work.
  • Finding the program’s thematic focus also involved compromise. Some members of the planning committee leaned politically to the left and believed that CCE ought to focus on redistributive understandings of justice. As they discussed this with conservative colleagues, however, and thought about civic life today, all members of the committee found common ground when looking at the history and foundational principles of Maxwell School. They honed in on creating CCE as a civic learning experience that would take a deliberative, ideologically balanced, data-driven approach to understanding the common good, citizenship and civic engagement. To address effectively the problem of societal partisanship, many parties need to be present!  
  • That deliberative spirit now permeates CCE. Students with many different backgrounds, beliefs, and political inclinations populate the program. Respectful listening, tolerance, and empathy are essential. So is careful, well-designed qualitative and quantitative social science and policy research. Recognition of the dialectical tension between communitarianism and entrepreneurialism that keeps us going—as a School and as a nation—is fundamental. The Maxwell School is proud of how CCE’s students, staff and faculty are bringing the ideals embedded within citizenship and civic engagement to life. https://www.maxwell.syr.edu/news.aspx?id=152471340645

Looking for more information on the courses? Please return to the top of the page and click on the “Exemplary Course Specifics” button found under the campus logo.