From the Director’s Desk- 3/17

From the Director’s Desk

March 2017

Over the last month, WiCC has been preparing for our upcoming Civic Engagement Institute, doing campus visits, consulting with Civic Action Planning Teams, meeting presidents, launching our mapping project, and working on fundraising proposals.  It has been incredibly busy month! At the same time, things in the country continue to change at a rapid pace.  The Corporation for National and Community Service is potentially on the chopping block, which certainly calls into question the kind of community-engaged work we do.  Now is the time to lift our voices and make sure that people know what we do and why we do it.

In my estimation, we are doing several things.  First, we are ensuring that students are getting the requisite skills they need to live in a productive life—both in the workplace and in society.  We’re giving students the opportunity to practice skills that employers demand that students have, such as working in teams, communicating in public, problem-solving, and critical thinking.  On top of that, we’re doing this alongside community partners who can benefit from the work that the university is doing along their side.  We’re also ensuring that students gain insights about how to engage in participatory democracy—learning how government works, how to stand up for what they believe in, how democracy operates, and how to take action when they feel strongly about an issue.  Further, we’re trying to change the culture of higher education so that it more directly engages in community-based problem-solving.

Why do we do these things? Because we believe that education should be put to work to improve society.  We believe that knowledge is incomplete when generated in the academy and should be complemented with experiential knowledge generated in real-world settings.  We believe that students can’t learn by sitting in the classroom.  We believe that reciprocal relationships rule the day.  We believe that people should be an active part of the democratic process—no matter what their particular stances are.  We believe in educating citizens and building communities.

So how can we ensure that our campuses are supportive of democratic learning and engagement? A piece of research that I’ve been citing a lot lately is out of Iowa State University’s Personal and Social Responsibility Inventory project.  Essentially, they say that later-in-life civic engagement is impacted by the extent to which the campus gives them messages about the value of civic engagement.  The quote is this: “the extent to which a campus exposes students to consistent messages that they need to be active and involved citizens, can exert a notable influence on improving their overall civic commitments and skills (Barnhardt, Sheets, & Pasquesi, 2015, p. 640).  If we’re not giving these students active, consistent messages about the value of civic engagement NOW, then we are not helping their chances of active citizenship later-in-life.  And let’s remember: the same skills they need to be engaged citizens are the same skills that employers want to see in the workplace.

Let’s continue to push forward and stand up for the value of service-learning and community engagement.  One thing you can do to continue down this path is come to the WiCC Civic Engagement Institute on April 6 (awards dinner) and 7 (conference) at NWTC.  Register HERE.

See you in Green Bay!

Gavin