In 2002, Campus Compact, with help from a Carnegie Corporation of New York grant, began investigating best practices in civic engagement. The three-year project looked at community colleges in the first year, which produced a set of resources that community-college leaders can use to help improve engagement with the community.
The project included surveys, telephone interviews, and on-site visits to determine best practices in civic engagement. An important part of this work was the structured interview protocol, which posed the same questions to different groups—administrators, faculty, students, and community members—around 13 indicators of civic engagement.
- Mission and purpose
- Academic and administrative leaders
- Disciplines, departments, and interdisciplinary work
- Teaching and learning
- Faculty development
- Faculty roles and rewards
- Support structures and resources
- Internal budget and resource allocations
- Community voice
- External resource allocation
- Coordination of community-based activities
- Forums for fostering public dialogue
- Student voice
Academic Leader recently spoke with Donna Killian Duffy, professor of psychology at Middlesex Community College in Massachusetts and Campus Compact Engaged Scholar, who worked on the project.
Duffy looked at how institutions “live” their missions by asking questions such as “How many faculty know what the mission is?” and “How visible is it?”
At some institutions, the mission was printed on mouse pads in every computer lab so everybody would see it regularly. However, the most successful programs showed faculty integrating the mission into their courses. “At one of the colleges, many of the faculty used elements from the college’s mission statement as part of their syllabus to define why they were teaching the course they way they were, which, I think, is a pretty powerful contrast to many other settings where somebody would have to check the college catalog to find the mission statement,” Duffy says.
Duffy found that, as a best teaching practice, engaged campuses often had interesting artifacts that reminded people of the college’s commitment to civic engagement. In one setting, there was a map of the areas served by the college and markers that indicated where students were engaged in the community. “It was a very large map that you couldn’t walk by without thinking, ‘Obviously there is a commitment here with the larger community,’” Duffy says.
“One of the other things that I think is important is seeing how colleges create multiple opportunities for communities to become engaged and how much the entire college was engaged,” Duffy says.
For example, Chandler-Gilbert Community College in Arizona has an annual event during which everyone at the college—faculty, staff, students, and administrators—goes into nearby communities in mixed teams and works on community projects for half a day. In the afternoon, they have “reflections” sessions to talk about the college’s role in the community and the roles faculty, students, staff, and administrators have in facilitating these types of connections. “This [event] very clearly models that the institution cares about civic engagement,” Duffy says.
Although making the commitment to civic engagement is important, the college also needs to demonstrate its commitment in other ways. Perhaps most important is providing faculty with the support, rewards, and development opportunities they need in order to commit to this mission. “If I, as a faculty member, want to do this kind of work, will I be rewarded, and can I get professional development to learn how to do it?” Duffy says.
Individual faculty members, however, should not be the only people pursuing civic engagement. Instead, colleges should pursue an “engaged department” model in which the department “helps students gain knowledge and experience in the community in realistic ways throughout the curriculum,” Duffy says.
With prompting from its accreditation agency and the support of a grant, the dental hygiene program at Middlesex Community College has taken this engaged department approach to civic engagement. Faculty went out in the community in Lowell—an inner-city, depressed-economy area—to encourage proper dental hygiene in fifth-grade classes. They found that many of the students did not have toothbrushes and had serious dental problems.
The program encouraged local dentists to donate their time to provide help for these children. By making this connection, the faculty learned what was happening in the community and realized that many of their assumptions were incorrect; this prompted changes in their teaching. They integrated service learning throughout the curriculum, “so students have experience in one setting, and then, as they gain more knowledge, go out into the community in a different way,” Duffy says.
The key to ongoing success in service learning is having a coordinator whose mission is to match faculty, courses, and community needs. The need for a coordinator is twofold: the work involved with assessing and truly understanding the community’s needs would take more time than most faculty members would be able to give, and somebody has to protect everybody involved in a service-learning agreement. “I think faculty tend to get caught up in the academics and what students need to learn, but what works academically will not always work for the community,” Duffy says. “When both parties trust each other, it’s win-win. One of the ways it works is when you have somebody making sure that the logistics are taken care of.”
Contact Donna Killian Duffy at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about the study, visit www.compact.org/indicators/index.php.