From the Directors Desk- May, 2017

From the Director’s Desk – May 2017
Thanks to everyone who came to our annual Civic Engagement Institute hosted by Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, co-sponsored by the Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities and St. Norbert College.  There were many takeaways from the various presentations, but the main message that I walked away with was this: We need to know why we do this work and be able to articulate these visions and frameworks to people both within and outside of our institutions.  From Nadinne’s presentation, I learned that, through community engagement projects, we are working in partnership with community members to conduct small-scale “experiments” in creating a better world driven by justice, collaborative work, and caring-combating a dystopian version of the world driven by injustice, isolation, and disregard for others.  We also do this work because we believe that community engagement provides students better opportunities to learn about the world as it is, picking up skills necessary for living a productive and meaningful life. From Steve’s presentation, I learned that we do our work because we view the university as a powerful driver of socially responsible community and economic development principles.  There is plenty to say about HOW we do our work (consider the countless publications and discussions about “best practices”), but without a firm understanding of WHY we do this work, it will be difficult to get people on board with our strategies.
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve attended numerous meetings where I have needed to use this language to help deliver this message.  For instance, at the Thriving College Towns Summit, sponsored by the Wisconsin Economic Development Council, I presented this vision of a community-connected university to mostly city planners and managers, main street directors, local business owners, and university faculty and staff.  The discussion at the conference was about the how to create thriving college towns, but I took the opportunity to present the why we do our work to the audience.  It seemed to resonate! People can easily follow why we do our work, but we need to be intentional about articulating it.  After that meeting, I had a follow-up discussion with a staff member from the Commons (entrepreneurial training program, which operates through a coalition of higher education institutions in Southeast Wisconsin), and we discussed the synergies between our work and their plans to create a “talent network” of recent college graduates who can work across the state to find innovative solutions to nonprofit, government, and private organizations.  This jointly helps keep people in the state, encourages those graduates to care about community-based problem-solving, and advances a community-driven agenda.  It is so important to articulate why we do, because it can really connect us to other similar groups.  This is the basis for coalition-building from my perspective.
[Stepping down from my soapbox]
A few reminders and things to look out for:
          Summer webinar series with IL Campus Compact: We will have 3 topics.  1. Facilitating dialogue across difference on campus.  2. Online service-learning.  3. Fundraising for Engagement: Getting community engagement on your Foundation’s / Development Office’s agenda.  Dates announced soon!
          Civic Action Planning Implementation Summits for Provosts and Chief Student Affairs Officers: This summer / early fall, we will host a summit in Wisconsin for institutions who have written Civic Action Plans.  Please start talking about this with those folks on your campuses. If you haven’t yet started on your Civic Action Plans, please
          Research brief released: Check out this brief on the state of research about measuring student civic learning.
Thank you for being a part of this coalition!