Archive for December, 2010

Community-Based Research at the California State Universities

By Cecilia M. Orphan, National Manager, American Democracy Project

“Our goal is to support campuses and communities to collaborate equitably as co-researchers to address significant social issues, to promote learning and development, and to advance the creation and dissemination of knowledge.” – From CSU Impact Nov./Dec. 2010 Issue

The California State University system has been providing outstanding leadership in community-based research (CBR) for several years now. We see CBR as an important component of what it means to be a “Steward of Place.” Stewardship of Place recognizes that universities are rich with resources – both human and intellectual – and are uniquely positioned to help solve local problems and advance democracy. One potential area of stewardship that a university can provide is by partnering with the community to research community-based problems and circumstances. Indeed, this kind of research is a potential niche for ADP institutions to occupy because they are often experts on their community circumstances. ADP schools have acquired this expertise through sustained and long-term engagement with their communities, and CBR can help them deepen this expertise and engagement.

We have identified community-based research as a signature practice of civic engagement for universities. Not only does it allow a university to act as a steward to its community, but it also engages students in meaningful learning and research experiences – an area that AASCU institutions continue to provide leadership. Many AASCU institutions have incorporated undergraduate research into their CBR. This has proven to be an innovative and effective strategy for teaching students important real-world research skills while providing them with opportunities to engage with the community in meaningful ways. It also helps focus the attention where it should be: on student learning outcomes.

Several universities in the American Democracy Project have taken this leadership a step further by allowing CBR to count in faculty tenure and rewards structures. This is an important feature of the institutionalization of civic engagement (a key feature of ADP) because it provides incentives for faculty members to be involved in the community and teach their students civic skills.

I hope many ADP universities will contemplate ways that they can become more deeply involved in their communities by conducting research that is relevant to their communities, targeted, and has the goal of addressing local problems. And, of course, all of this should be done through equitable an partnership with the community.

To learn more about the CSU System’s leadership in CBR, please visit this website. For more information about undergraduate research, please visit the Council on Undergraduate Research’s website.

Does your campus engage in community-based research? If so, what kind of projects has it undertaken?

UW Oshkosh Creates Innovative Civic Minor

By Cecilia M. Orphan, National Manager, American Democracy Project

I am pleased to announce that the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh has launched a new civic engagement minor. This is a very exciting program and a notable example of  a “signature practice of civic engagement.” Minors are a fantastic way to experiment with coursework and academic programming that can be spread throughout the entire university. Minors also demonstrate one of the key tenets of ADP: institutional intentionality.

Another innovative component of the UW Oshkosh minor is its emphasis on  “21st Century Skills,” which include communicating with those with whom you disagree, navigating diversity, problem solving, critical thinking, etc. In the Agents and Architects of Democracy Webcast series, we made the case that 21st Century Skills are both civic skills and professional skills because they are needed in communities and in the work place. As a AAC&U learned in an employer survey, employers are most interested in employees who possess these exact skills. With the increasing emphasis on job force preparation and as campuses are pressed to develop their students as professionals, a focus on 21st Century Skills is a way to preserve civic education because this type of education becomes a vehicle for acquiring important 21st Century Skills.

We at ADP salute UW Oshkosh for their leadership in creating the minor and including a focus on 21st Century Skills development. Please see below for the full press release about the minor.


UWO offers first civic engagement program in Wis.

Press release taken from this website.

A new academic program at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh — the first of its kind in the state — will help students become effective leaders who make positive contributions in their professions and communities.

The new civic engagement minor and emphasis will be offered through UW Oshkosh’s political science department starting in spring 2011. Students now can register for the first course, “Essentials of Civic Engagement,” which teaches how to analyze and navigate the policy process. The course has been designed to be both inspirational and practical and will require students to job shadow a community leader.

“Involvement in the community is not a side project for UW Oshkosh; it is our lifeblood. The University exists to benefit the state of Wisconsin, and we take that mission very seriously,” said David Siemers, a political science professor who led the effort to create the minor.”

“Students come to college to learn, but they also should find a sense of purpose in life — a calling. Civic engagement is one way to inspire students and instill in them the skills they need to effectively pursue their passion and effect real change in the world,” Siemers said. “Successful civic engagement requires the development of knowledge, skills and a sense of how values can be mobilized to drive community organizations and public policies. In short, civic engagement moves people from having ideas to having the skills to do something about it.”

The intellectual and practical skills that students will acquire in the civic engagement minor reflect what a recent national Association of American College and Universities (AAC&U) survey of employers identified as most important in the workforce, such as complex problem solving, critical thinking and analytic reasoning.

“Many students already are involved in service projects and volunteerism; however, today’s workplaces demand an even broader set of intellectual skills beyond a traditional major,” Carleen Vande Zande, assistant vice chancellor for curricular affairs and student academic achievement, said.

“Majors across all fields call for the development and application of this knowledge. The completion of a minor in civic engagement will provide students with additional opportunities to apply what they know from their major to solve problems, think critically and become engaged beyond campus,” Vande Zande said.

Braden Frederickson, an education major at UW Oshkosh, said there was no better time than the present to implement the civic engagement program.

“The civic engagement minor is not only a great addition to a student’s resume, but it also is a necessity for society,” Frederickson said. “While some have given up on the younger generation, this area of study proves there are still people who value service to the community, state and nation.

“By adding the civic engagement minor to a portfolio, you benefit yourself, your school and your society,” Frederickson said.

UW Oshkosh offers numerous leadership and volunteer opportunities for students, including the annual Hands on Oshkosh program and Alternative Spring Break, which sends students throughout the country to help those in need. Additionally, UWO’s chapter of the American Democracy Project focuses on higher education’s role in preparing the next generation of informed, engaged citizens to participate in a democracy.

“The civic engagement program demonstrates how the University promotes the ideals and values of democracy,” Chancellor Richard H. Wells said. “The new minor and emphasis is an excellent example of how UW Oshkosh prepares students to be active leaders in society.”

Added Provost Lane Earns, “I am extremely proud of our new civic engagement program, which provides multi-disciplinary structure that builds upon existing engagement efforts and establishes new platforms for expanded leadership opportunities both on and off campus. The program epitomizes UW Oshkosh’s long-time commitment to the value of broad-based liberal education.”

Freedom Riders: Get on the Bus

By Cecilia M. Orphan, National Manager, American Democracy Project

I hope many students in the American Democracy Project will apply to participate in the Freedom Ride sponsored by PBS. Please see below for additional information. This will likely be a transformational educational and civic experience for those who participate. Thanks to our friends at WETA for alerting me to this important opportunity.

American Experience Invites College Students to “Get on the Bus”

Be one of 40 college students to join original Freedom Riders
in retracing the 1961 Rides.

May 6-16, 2011: Washington, DC to Jackson, MS

Apply now!

Read the New York Times article.

Watch the full episode. See more American Experience.

JOIN students from across the country in retracing the route of the 1961 Freedom Rides. Accepted students will participate at no cost to them. All transportation, hotel and food expenses are covered by American Experience.

PARTICIPATE in an intergenerational conversation about civic engagement.
What does it mean today? What has changed since 1961?
What inspires young people to “get on the bus”?

SHARE the journey.
Through live blogging, Twitter, and Facebook, the students on the bus will be able to share their experiences and, in a sense, bring others along on their journey.

Application period is open!
Application deadline: January 17, 2011
Decisions announced: February 2011

Updated MLK Day Guide

By Cecilia M. Orphan, National Manager, American Democracy Project

In 1994 Congress passed the Martin Luther King (MLK) Jr. Holiday and Service Act designating the King Holiday as a national day of volunteer service. Instead of a day off from work or school, Congress asked Americans of all backgrounds and ages to celebrate Dr. King’s legacy by turning community concerns into citizen action.  The motto for the day is, “A Day On, Not a Day Off.” In 2007, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) in partnership with the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) created a collection of resources for planning an MLK Day for colleges and universities. We have updated the original MLK Day Guide. This year’s MLK Day is on Monday, January 17, 2011.

This guide is packed full of tips for funding, project organization, volunteer management, and much more. The campus case studies section has been updated with examples from the 2009 MLK Day. Additionally, this MLK Day guide includes a blog post from Harry Boyte about how campuses might incorporate Civic Agency/We the People ideas into their celebrations.

To download the 2010 MLK Day Guide, please visit this website.



Footage from the Civic Agency Institute: Harry Boyte on We the People

By Cecilia M. Orphan, National Manager, American Democracy Project

“It’s important for us as academics to recognize that our knowledge is less important than the community’s knowledge. As an academic, you are on tap – not on top. It is essential for communities to develop their own power.” – Harry Boyte

For those of you who weren’t able to join us in DC for the third annual Civic Agency Institute, please see below for footage from the event. In this video, Harry Boyte elaborates on We the People and explains how we might describe our work to others. This is an amazing and short (15 minutes long) speech that lays the groundwork for We the People.

The song is “We Are the Ones” by Melissa Etheridge.

We the People Interview Series: Interview with Stephen N. Smith, Author, Stoking the Fire of Democracy

As part of the Civic Agency initiative, we are launching a special “We the People” interview series. In this series, we will interview interesting people with different perspectives to offer on the “We the People” phase of our work in ADP. This is the first of many interviews that will be included in this series.

Stephen is the author of the book, Stoking the Fire of Democracy: Our Generation’s Introduction to Grassroots Organizing. This practical and short (123 pages!) book is a wonderful resource for students and faculty members who are interested in learning more about community organizing. Stoking the Fire would make an excellent common reader for universities that want their students to dig deeply into the nitty gritty of organizing tactics. What follows is a candid interview with Stephen, where he discusses why it’s important to make mistakes and build relationships when you are doing community organizing.

Cecilia M. Orphan (CMO): You talk a lot about the importance of making mistakes in your book. How are mistakes useful in community organizing, and how might we learn from them as we’re working to civically engage students?

Stephen N. Smith (SNS): To make change in the world, we have to be somehow different, unprecedented, unexpected. That’s what change is. It’s new and unchartered. Mistakes are the proof that we are going right to the edge of what’s possible.

Last March, the organization I work for promised to send 10,000 people from Illinois to march on Washington, D.C. to demand immigration reform. We could have promised 5,000 or 1,000 instead. Because we shot higher, we made a lot more mistakes (for example, some of the bus companies we worked with screwed us, we didn’t prepare people as well as we could have for logistical problems, etc.). In the end, we only got 8,800 people to march, but those 8,800 had a transformative experience. And because our partners took similar risks nationwide, the overall result was the biggest single D.C. mobilization in years.

CMO: Using community organizing tactics, how might faculty members engage students to solve community problems? How might students engage faculty members?

SNS: One thing professors do well is think. Organizing teaches that good action requires good evaluation afterwards. I love it when I see professors engaging students in difficult questions about their work: What went well? Where did you fail? What would make this change sustainable? What did you risk or sacrifice?

What students do best is risk. If you are 21 and you are not taking any risks to make the world a better place, you probably aren’t going to start when you turn 30 and have kids. When I was a student, after years of meetings with the president and other campus leaders and other tactics were exhausted, we risked getting arrested or kicked out of school when we conducted a sit-in of the president’s office that lasted three weeks. We also risked being ridiculed by our peers (which we were). But we won.

No risk I ever took compares to what’s happening in the immigrant rights movement now. Undocumented kids are getting arrested (and risking deportation) just because they want to go to college or serve in the military. When I go to sleep at night I think about how I can match my courage with theirs.

CMO: In your book you write, “Give man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he eats until the local factory pollutes his lake. Teach a man to organize, and he eats for a lifetime.” Can you describe the lessons from this parable for campuses working to solve community problems?

SNS: It’s interesting. In the book, right after that quote it says that even that statement doesn’t go far enough…that organizing is not something that one person should teach another. It’s something that people learn together, through common struggle and mistake-making and mutual accountability.

To answer your question, I don’t think that a campus can or should solve community problems.  Nor should a community try to solve a campus’s problems.  The question is: how do they work together?  I get really excited when student organizing tries to help the broader community by first holding the campus accountable. Interested in the environment?  First hold your college accountable to greening its buildings. Interested in poverty alleviation? First start a living wage campaign at your school.  When we engage our own institution first, it gives us more power to work constructively without the community around the campus.

If you are dead set on helping the community outside your campus, make sure that the relationship is truly reciprocal. If you are giving time and resources, make sure you are getting time and resources in return.

In community organizing, we build this reciprocity into our structure. My organization’s board, the group that decides whether to hire and fire me, the group that decides our strategy, is made up of immigrants, rich and poor people, citizens and undocumented immigrants. None of them is trying to do something FOR somebody else or solve anybody else’s problems; they are all in it together.

CMO: You write a lot about the importance of relationship building in your book. Can you talk more about this, and how it relates to community/university partnerships? What are some practical tips you have for campuses who are trying to work effectively and equitably with community partners to solve local problems?

SNS: A relationship just means that there’s give and take, and that we are treating each other as unique individuals – as opposed to interchangeable “clients” or “volunteers” or “programs.”

Most universities do this pretty well. Get to know your partners first. Ask them tough questions – where does their money come from? Who do they ally themselves with? Answer the same questions yourself.

Tell them the ways you will hold them accountable. Ask for ways they can hold you accountable. Perhaps most important, follow the iron rule of organizing: never, never do for someone what they can do for themselves. I fail at this a lot. I get so excited or prideful that I try and step in and lead when others would do so better.

Ask: what am I challenging others to do? And: how am I being challenged?

One litmus test we use in immigrant rights organizing is making sure we don’t have a bunch of non-immigrant white folks leading meetings. White folks, especially white men (like me), love leading meetings and being heard and helping out, but rarely do they have the base (of knowledge or of people or of experience) that our immigrant leaders do. Watching for who’s out front and who’s making decisions is a good thing we can all do to make sure we are not just being led by the same old crowd.

CMO: Any other thoughts and comments?

SNS: Two things: One, don’t forgot to have fun. If you aren’t having fun, it ain’t worth it.

Two, give me a call if you want to talk more. (773) 444-9557. There is nothing I enjoy more than talking with folks who, like me, are trying and failing to make the world a better place.

To order a copy of Stoking the Fire, please visit this website.

The views, opinions, positions or strategies expressed by the authors of the We the People interview series and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, positions or strategies of AASCU or any employee thereof.

ADP Query: Launching an Online Journal and Social Network for Civic Engagement

By Cecilia M. Orphan, National Manager, American Democracy Project

In partnership with Missouri State University, we are interested in creating an online journal and academic social network for the American Democracy Project. This journal is growing out of the work of the eCitizenship initiative. We envision the journal having the following the elements:

  • Peer Review
  • Interactive, social networking hub (a place to propose and refine research topics)
  • A showcase for pedagogical tools
  • An ongoing symposium for working papers
  • Assessment strategies for civic learning outcomes
  • A showcase for student activities and projects

We need your help.

Will you take a moment to fill out this short, online query and tell us what would be most useful to you in such a journal? To fill out this query, please visit this website. Also, if you are interested in helping with the design, launch, and/or implementation of the journal, please contact Cecilia Orphan.

Thank you in advance for your help!

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