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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.

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