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Campus Spotlight: University of Alaska Anchorage’s ENGAGE Week

By Judith Owens-Manley, Director, UAA Center for Community Engagement & Learning

CCEL

ENGAGE: e Citizenship at UAA, hosted in the Center for Community Engagement & Learning and supervised by Director Dr. Judith Owens-Manley, has created an active group of ENGAGE Social Issue Liaisons, students committed to connecting faculty, students, and community partners around social issues and community goals and through social media.  ENGAGE Social Issue Liaisons interviewed faculty and gathered student and community information over the course of last year to generate our new website pages at www.uaa.alaska.edu/engage.  In January 2012 ENGAGE Liaisons will begin supervising 6-8 new service-learning projects in the Anchorage, Alaska community.  AmeriCorps VISTA Project Coordinator Kris Katkus is coordinating the ENGAGE Social Issue Liaison projects this year.

An Engaged University

ENGAGE took a departure from technology in October, 2011 and met person to person for our first ENGAGE Week, brought to UAA by one of our ENGAGE Students, Alyssa Logan, who attended the Impact Conference last spring in Deland, Florida at Stetson University. The IMPACT Conference is historically the largest gathering in the country focused on the civic engagement of college students in community service, service-learning, community-based research, advocacy and other forms of social action.  Alyssa attended a session from another campus that was doing a week of similar activities and came back to Alaska determined to create our own week!  ENGAGE Week was held Oct. 17-21 as 5 days of brown bag lunches, service activities, and discussion panels in the late afternoon/early evening focused on social issues of importance to the Anchorage community.

ENGAGE week was sponsored by the Center for Community Engagement & Learning in Academic Affairs and Student Life and Leadership in the Dean of Student’s Office.  Each day had a theme such as Poverty, Education, Health, Immigration, and Environment.  More than 400 students, faculty and staff participated in ENGAGE Week events, culminating in two special events on Friday.

Student reflections on ENGAGE Week confirmed our belief that this is a program that we would want to hold every year.  Their comments point to the connections, awareness, new learning, and call to action that we hope to create in our eCitizenship project and in events like this one.

  • ENGAGE Week was an important series of events to me because it was a chance to connect with new people who share the same interests I have in environmental issues and sustainability. I had a great time during the Recycling Relay and met several people I expect to collaborate with for future environmentally-focused projects.
  • It was truly amazing to see the reactions of students when they engaged in a visual activity representing the division of poverty in the world. Sitting back and watching their reactions, comments, and behaviors made it clear that this was forcing them to open their eyes to how things are for people in other places, or even other situations, than themselves.
  • I had the opportunity to learn about courses I can attend right here at UAA that I never knew about before. I would definitely recommend these courses to my friends because it sounds fun, interesting, and incredibly relevant to Alaskan citizens.
  • Only one other student who attended [Invisible Children documentary] had previously heard about the Invisible Children campaign. Now an entire room full of people knows about the longest-lasting war in Africa and is inspired to do something about the injustice we learned about. One of the students who saw the film decided to start a club at UAA about Invisible Children! This event was an amazing success at engaging students in their world.

Community Partner Speed Dating was one special event that was attended by approximately 50 community agency representatives and faculty, with each “couple” spending 5 minutes together brainstorming connections for community projects before moving on to the next partner.  These 5 minute discussions followed a breakfast and welcome by Louise Van Rhyn, an internationally renowned South African expert on building community.

Community members thanked us for hosting Community Partner Speed Dating, which we will include again as a culmination to ENGAGE Week next year. Agency representatives told us:

  • We have gotten results – exposure, direct connections, new ideas.
  •  This is a great event with many interesting conversations and short enough that it was easy to do!

Faculty members reported benefits and appreciation of the opportunity to meet others:

  • I’ve gotten to talk with agencies whom I have met for the first time who provide new opportunities.
  • It’s helpful as I engage with students . . . I’m more aware of what’s out there.

And students, who were invited to attend at the end of Speed Dating, were enthusiastic:

  • I discovered SO many community organizations that I never knew existed in Anchorage. I went to speed dating in the hopes of being able to find somewhere to volunteer, and now I have lists of local volunteer opportunities that I can choose from!
  • It was fun talking to new people about engaging in the community and finding that there are other people in the community who are excited about being engaged, too!

As a second special event on Friday, Dean of Students Dr. Dewain Lee hosted a celebration luncheon for ENGAGE week students and participants in a new student “Emerging Leaders” program that Dean Lee initiated this year.  Community programs featured during Engage Week included Homeward Bound; Project Puqigtut, an Alaska Native Education program; The Alaska Immigration Justice Project; and Refugee and Immigrant Services Program.  Student Clubs hosted the luncheon events: Oxfam Club, The Heifer Club, Social Work Coalition, Panhellenic Council, American Medical Student Association, Sustainability Club, and the Student Nurses Association.

For more information about UAA’s Center for Community Engagement and Learning, check out their annual report here.

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