Liberal Education

From The Editor

This issue of Liberal Education draws from a national symposium convened in November 2009 by the Bringing Theory to Practice (BTtoP) project. Titled “Civic Engagement, Public Work, and Psychosocial Well-Being,” the symposium brought together leading researchers, educators, and practitioners to assess the effects and affects of civic engagement and public work on the psychosocial well-being of college students.

In partnership with the Association of American Colleges and Universities, the BTtoP project was developed in 2003 by the Charles Engelhard Foundation as a response to widespread behavioral, emotional, and civic disengagement on the part of undergraduate students. At the time, increasing manifestations of behavioral and emotional disengagement—exhibited as substance abuse, for example, or as self-reported episodes of depression—were not being adequately addressed, as most colleges and universities sought on an ad hoc basis to relieve symptoms, address security concerns, and avoid liability. Simultaneously, the alarming extent of student disengagement from, and even disinterest in, civic life was being revealed by a host of accumulating statistics. BTtoP’s founding insight, based on the recognition of important connections among these seemingly disparate patterns of disengagement, was that by strengthening students’ academic engagement, campuses could positively affect students’ behavior, well-being, and civic development.

By 2008, the project had, through a “preponderance of the evidence,” decisively confirmed and documented the connections among engaged learning, civic development, and psychosocial well-being. It had also begun to identify successful strategies for maximizing the achievement of specific student outcomes—cognitive, behavioral and emotional, and civic. Some of the fruits of this work were on display at the 2009 symposium.

The articles collected here examine the interrelatedness of civic engagement, psychosocial well-being, and engaged learning. I am especially grateful to Don Harward, director of the BTtoP project, and Barry Checkoway, director of the project’s demonstration site program, for their support for, and assistance with, this special issue.

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