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Posts tagged ‘american commonwealth partnership’

Shaping Our Future Forums: Update & Free Moderator Training Webinar


Thank you for your interest in Shaping Our Future, our project to spur thoughtful, inclusive, and open deliberation on the future of higher education on campuses and in communities nationwide. Here’s an update from the National Issues Forums and the American Commonwealth Project on what’s happening this fall.

We welcome your comments, and please let us know if you’d like more information about participating in the Shaping Our Future Project.

Join Us For A Moderator Preparation Webinar
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 26, 2012:  2PM

This coming year, more than 60 campuses and communities will host shaping our future forums. Here’s your chance to find out how to participate.

This free webinar is designed specifically for anyone interested in hosting or moderating deliberative forums for the National Shaping Our Future Project. This project is a joint effort of the National Issues Forums Institute and the American Commonwealth Project.

Participants can ask questions and/or give comments via chat (or voice, if your computer has a microphone).

The webinar will cover these topics and more:

  • Overview: Shaping Our Future—its goals, rationale, and background
  • A primer:  NIF’s approach to moderating to encourage deliberation and dialogue
  • An introduction to the project’s print and video materials
  • Tips on expanding the dialogue between campuses and communities
  • Troubleshooting techniques
  • A chance to talk with seasoned NIF moderators and learn from their experiences

Please click the link below to get registered today. Have specific questions? Send them to us ahead of time and we’ll include them in the webinar discussion period! (

Specific web URL and user credentials to access the Webinar will be sent to you upon registration via the email address you provided during the registration process.  Register Now!

The Power of Public Narrative: Harry Boyte in the HuffPost

This is a re-post of Harry Boyte’s recent opinion piece in the Huffington Post. Harry has been a long-term partner of ADP’s civic agency initiative. Here Harry writes eloquently about the power of campus-community partnerships and the need for colleges and universities to be participatory citizen-agents in their communities — conceiving themselves as part of a community, rather than standing apart as “partners with,” yet other than (better than?) the community.  Plus the piece talks about my hometown — Utica, NY! — Jen Domagal-Goldman, ADP National Manager

Re-posted from:

Hope and Higher Education — The Powers of Public Narratives

By Harry Boyte

What happens when colleges become “part of” communities, not simply “partners with” communities, overcoming the culture of detachment that took hold in higher education after World War II, described by Thomas Ehrlich, a pioneer of civic engagement?

Such a shift means colleges and universities act as anchoring institutions, part of the “barn raising” which Nancy Cantor recently called for. In barn raising, colleges help communities to address challenges ranging from economic development to school reform.

In some cases re-integration of colleges, their staff and students into places can lead to even more expansive change. When colleges and universities and their members take on the role of “agents and architects of democracy,” envisioned in The Wingspread Declaration in 1999, the process can generate new public narratives through which communities are able to re-imagine their futures.

There is a rich if largely unknown history which shows the potential. And there are examples today, like a consortium of colleges and universities in upstate New York, working with towns to spark a renaissance of the region, using the rubric “Rust to Green.”

In years of researching effective citizen action, I have often been struck by the powers of public narratives. In Brooklyn in the 1980s, East Brooklyn Churches, an African American community organization, launched the nation’s most ambitious low-income housing effort. The key was a new public narrative.

Community residents, using the story of the Old Testament leader who led the people in rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls, named their effort Nehemiah Homes. “The story connected our work to something real, not something bogus,” explains Mike Gecan, the local organizer. “It got it out of the ‘housing’ field and the idea that you have to have 35 consultants to do anything. It made it more than housing.”

The heart of such narratives is a shift in collective identity from victim to agent of change. Such narratives also require skilled organizing to make them come alive — citizen politics attentive to power, diverse interests, and relationship building. Local people need to own the stories, rooted in collective life. Such stories bring together previously divided groups. They counter the idea that making money, hyper-competition, and celebrity status are the ultimate goals, with the vision of a different future animiated [sic] by democratic, egalitarian, cooperative and inclusive values.

Such stories also challenge trends in higher education. On the one hand, colleges and universities tout their role in providing expertise to those seen as in need of answers. Historian Scott Peters has called this the “heroic meta-narrative” of higher education’s role.

On the other hand, social theorists in recent decades have developed what Peters calls the “tragic counter-narrative,” in which higher education is the oppressor. As the anthropologist James Scott put it about land grant colleges, “The unspoken logic… of agricultural modernization was one of consolidating the power of central institutions and diminishing the autonomy of cultivators and their communities.”

Peters has unearthed an alternative to both, what he calls the “prophetic counter-narrative,” in which land grant college faculty and students work as part of communities. In this story, faculty and students as well as other citizens combine practical problem solving with narrative imagination.

Thus, land grant colleges once helped to organize a “Little Country Theater Movement,” local theaters across the Midwest designed to help communities tell their own stories. Alfred Arvold, on the faculty at North Dakota Agricultural College, began the movement in 1914 convinced that “there are literally millions of people in country communities today whose abilities have been hidden, simply because they have never had an opportunity to give expression to their talents.” The theater projects fed later populist movements.

Peters has been part of the Rust to Green consortium in upstate New York that revives this approach. The consortium, including Cornell, Colgate, Utica College, Hamilton College, and Mohawk Valley Community College, is working in Utica and the Mohawk Valley, with plans to expand to other cities.

Rust to Green holds that stories of community decline in the “Rust Belt,” a stretch of communities which have experienced loss of manufacturing jobs, declining populations, growing poverty and other ills, can be reversed by multidimensional work to build sustainable and resilient communities and economies. The rubric is the brainchild of Paula Horrigan, associate professor of landscape architecture at Cornell who identifies with the land grant public work tradition.

Horrigan has long been skeptical of colleges “serving communities” from on high, or simply “researching” their problems. She believes that higher education work should always be in a process of “decentering,” and measures success by the degree to which the work is able to move energy away from academic experts and towards communities. She uses the metaphor of a growing tree in which the center dies out and outer layers grow and thicken, transporting nutrients and becoming increasingly life-filled and generative. She sees herself as “part of” the region and its communities, not “partners with.”

A Brookings Institute study in 2007 identified area towns as having hidden assets and “high potential for renewed prosperity.” Building on this message, Rust to Green began in 2009 with a three year federal grant. Then mayor David Roefaro was enthusiastic. “I want to make Utica one of the greenest cities in upstate New York and our affiliation with Cornell is going to do that,” he said.

The metaphor is highly catalytic. The Mohawk Valley Food Action Network, using the Rust to Green logo, includes dozens of partners — schools, local producers, farmers’ markets, cooperative extension, local governments. It aims to strengthen local farmers and businesses, building on local knowledge and creating a healthy, sustainable food system.

One World Garden in Utica, also part of Rust to Green, is organized by a coalition including immigrants, the Mohawk Valley Center for Refugees, artists and others. It combines local food production, a park space, and art, highlighting the contributions of refugees and immigrants, seeking to counter the idea of “threat” with possibility.

Public officials have also broadened their views. “We’re now looking at municipal projects in a new way,” explains Bob Sullivan, former Urban Renewal Agency director and member of the Rust to Green Core. “We’re looking at storm water mitigation, permeable pavement and all sorts of things that could be considered green.”

Rust to Green is only two years old, but the metaphor has shown strong appeal. As one faculty member active in the consortium told Horrigan, “People don’t know much about our campus center, but everyone knows something is afoot in Rust to Green.”

Perhaps most important for democracy in New York and elsewhere is the revival of the “democracy’s college” narrative of democracy, different than either the unbridled market or government-centered action.

As Peters put it, democracy’s colleges aimed not only at “material well-being for all.” They also promoted a “democratic ideal (and practice) of self-rule, through which the common people, functioning as citizens, work as cooperative producers not only of the commonwealth, but also of the culture and politics of their own neighborhoods and communities.

This is the story of democracy as a journey, not a destination. It is needed once again.

Harry C. Boyte is National Coordinator of the American Commonwealth Partnership, director of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at Augsburg College, and a Senior Fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

Read the full post, and other HuffPost opinion pieces by Harry Boyte, here:

Introducing Citizen Alum: Doers, Not (Just) Donors

Citizen Alum counters the image of alumni as primarily “donors” with a vision of them as also “doers.” Alums are allies in education–crucial partners in building multigenerational communities of active citizenship and active learning.

Citizen Alum, based at the University of Michigan, started six months ago as an affiliated program of the American Commonwealth Partnership (ACP) — of which ADP is a member — took shape during the planning phase of the January 10, 2012 White House meeting, “For Democracy’s Future.”


You can learn more about Citizen Alum at #ADP12 next week in San Antonio, during the following sessions:

Thursday, June 7 | 1 p.m. – 3 p.m. | Conference Room 7
Pre-Conference Workshop: American Commonwealth Partnership Open Forum (open to all)
ADP and TDC are two key partners in the new American Commonwealth Partnership (ACP). ACP is an alliance of colleges and universities, higher education groups, P-12 schools and others dedicated to the democracy college ideal for all higher education. Launched at the White House on January 10, ACP grows out of ADP’s Civic Agency Initiative and its ‘We the People’ conference in Washington, D.C. The November 2010 conference laid the initial plans for a movement in higher education to, in partnership with policy makers, deepen the civic identities of colleges and universities and spread empowering pedagogies and community-connecting practices. At this preconference forum, participants have a chance to hear about several key ACP initiatives, including: the deliberative dialogues on higher education’s role in America’s future; “Citizen Alum,” strategies for broadening the role of alumni from “donors” to “doers;” and Empowering Pedagogies, approaches which bring civic agency into curricular and co-curricular innovation. ADP’s new Campus Civic
Health Initiative, which focuses on ways to measure and improve civic health, is also discussed.
Facilitator: Harry Boyte, Director, Center for Democracy and Citizenship, Augsburg College (Minn.) and National Coordinator, American Commonwealth Partnership
Citizen Alum: Strategies for Campus Teams
Presenters: Julie Ellison, Professor of American Culture and English and Lead Organizer of Citizen Alum, University of Michigan; Thomas Morgan, Executive Director, Center for Faith and Learning, Augsburg College (Minn.); and Kara Lindaman, Associate Professor and ADP Campus Director, Winona State University (Minn.)
Deliberative Dialogues on Shaping Our Future
Presenters: Kara Lindaman, Associate Professor and Campus ADP Campus Director and Laura Lake, Student, Winona State University (Minn.)
Empowering Pedagogies
Presenters: Blase Scarnati, Director, First Year Seminar Program and Global Learning, Northern Arizona University and Kaylesh Ramu, Student Government Association President, University of Maryland Baltimore County

Saturday, June 9 | 10 a.m. – 11:15 a.m. | Conference Room 7
Introducing Citizen Alum—Alumni as Doers, Not (Just) Donors
This session is an introduction to Citizen Alum as a strategy for institutional culture change. The particular focus of this panel is integrating alumni relations into campus-wide public/community engagement.
Presenters: Julie Ellison, Professor of American Culture and English and Lead
Organizer of Citizen Alum, University of Michigan;
Jodi Bantley, Coordinator, Community Service-Learning, Center for Community-Based Learning, Metropolitan State University (Minn.); LeeAnn Lands, Associate Professor of History and American Studies and Lisa Duke, Director, Office of Alumni Affairs, Kennesaw State University (Ga.)


Citizen Alum seeks 25 colleges and universities representing all sectors of American higher education. Working with this network, we plan develop ways to exchange good models as well as to foster bold aspirations. We want to support campus Citizen Alum teams that extend the university’s public mission to more offices and departments. Finally, we hope to become a community that views alumni, along with other constituencies, as “agents and architects of democracy,” to use the language of the Wingspread Declaration.

Charter Members Include:

  • Augsburg College
  • De Anza College
  • Kennesaw State University
  • Metropolitan State University
  • Syracuse University
  • University of Michigan
  • University of Michigan-Dearborn
  • University of Minnesota
  • Winona State University

At each site, we look for a team that is willing to work with the national network for three years. The team should include representatives of community engagement centers, academic programs, alumni associations, development, and, of course, citizen alums themselves. There is no fee for joining.

We conceive of Citizen Alum as a national listening project; a capacity-building project to make public the civic passions of alums, current students, faculty, and staff; and a participatory research project.

Along with Alex Olson, a doctoral student in American Culture at the University of Michigan who is a collaborator on the project, I have been having a series of inspiring phone calls and meetings with people from interested campuses. These encounters have confirmed our belief that colleges and universities are trying many different creative strategies as they reframe their approaches to public engagement in ways that support richer cross-generational connections.

Please contact me if you would like to join the Citizen Alum network of campuses, centers, and consortia.

Julie Ellison, Professor of American Culture and English, University of Michigan

Different Ways to Do It Right: Alumni Listening Projects

“Start listening projects to gather and learn from the reflections of engaged alumni” is right at the top of Citizen Alum’s list of goals. Alumni are central to Citizen Alum. Each participating campus or center is assembling a Citizen Alum team. (See “Who’s On Your CA Team?”) Each team will include alumni members. Citizen Alum is committed to involving alums in multiple ways-through participation in academic activities (like capstone courses), working on specific issues with campus-community projects in the region–or serving on the Citizen Alum campus team.

One of the reasons we started Citizen Alum is because we are convinced that creative new strategies in alumni relations are taking shape on college and university campuses all over the country. Over the last six months, as Citizen Alum has gone from a lunchtime brainstorm at the American Democracy Project conference to a viable national undertaking, we have learned of existing or new alumni listening projects at several member campuses. The diversity of these programs shows that there are, indeed, many different ways to do it right.

For examples, see “Listening Projects,” below.

What Questions Are They Asking?

Metropolitan U Students To Interview Alums

1.How you are involved in your community or in efforts to solve public problems?

2.How do you address community issues through your work? What are the primary social issues related to your field?

3.What motivated you to become involved in community and public problem-solving? How did your path to civic engagement start?

4.Were there any particular classes, instructors or organizations that particularly shaped your ideas or your approach to community work? How?

5.How has your life changed because of your community involvement? What have you gained from being a civic actor?

From “Citizen Alum Interview Questions” developed for writing and media and communications courses

Listening Example #1:

Metropolitan State: Integrating Interviews Into Academics

Jodi Bantley, Coordinator of Community Service Learning at the Center for Community-Based Learning (soon to become the The Institute for Community Engagement and Scholarship) writes that Metropolitan State’s approach to Citizen Alum focuses on “academic integration and student learning.”

The institutional relationship-building between alumni relations and other units that is needed to achieve such integration is an important fringe benefit. The Department of Communication, Writing, and the Arts explored CA as an “engaged department” project. There is considerable faculty interest in crafting CA components for courses that range from a basic Information Studies class to the capstone course.

To date, the most concrete academic outcome of CA is a plan to integrate “citizen alum stories” into coursework. Two sections of a Basic Writing course will be dedicated to the theme of civic engagement in Fall 2012, involving 44 students per semester in gathering alumni stories. The Human Subjects Review Board has approved a guiding set of interview questions (see “What Questions Are They Asking?”) and a step-by-step guide for students. Two Spring 2012 semester pilots will give the interview assignment a test run. It will be integrated into an upper division Media Studies course, ‘Communicating with New Media,” and a Social Science department internship, sponsored by the Center for Community-Based Learning.

Listening Example #2:

Winona State: An Innovative Web Platform

Dr. Kara Lindaman of Winona State’s Citizen Alum team (and point person for the American Democracy Project at Winona State) sends word of the group’s decision to produce “gap” and “situated” alumni narratives in video and written form. Through undergraduate research and other forms of intentional engagement, students will begin to collect and disseminate this critical work this spring. These narratives will be featured on the Winona 360 site—a wonderful place that is something like an online student-produced community media center for the region.

Through surveys and interviews, a rich database of alumni engaged in public work will lead to a better understanding of the civic learning and civic health of WSU students, before and after they graduate. These efforts involve collaborations with academic units and with the WSU Alumni Office and Foundation. They also contribute to the Rural Outcomes Initiative of Minnesota Campus Compact by documenting the economic development and workplace contributions of alums in Southeastern Minnesota.

Why Listen?

Listen to be surprised. Engaged alums take their civic vocation seriously. They come bearing gifts–the gifts of experience, ideas, skills, and strategies. As ACP National Coordinator Harry Boyte says, citizen alums “are hidden treasures.”

Listen to connect. Asking the right questions about what alums are doing is the first step in learning about their civic creativity. (See “What Questions Are They Asking?”) At Metropolitan State, the Citizen Alum team sees this as relationship-building, “laying the groundwork to connect directly to alums as public problem-solvers.”

Listen to stimulate research. Alumni are potential research partners–co-investigators on inquiries that benefit both the college and alumni themselves. For example, a joint research project might look at the aspirations and choices of publicly active students during the transition from college to career.

Listen to change the culture on campus.

Listening projects connect academic and administrative offices to the university’s public mission in new, more collaborative ways.

Joining CA: Kennesaw

At Kennesaw University in Georgia, planning for systemic public engagement is underway. Citizen Alum adds a valued dimension. Public engagement is central to broad new initiatives. At Kennesaw, people in varied roles and different units all have civic learning and civic professionalism on their minds.

Kennesaw State has launched “Engage KSU,” anticipating the opportunity in 2015 to apply for the Carnegie Foundation’s Elective Community Engagement Classification. Having made the decision to incorporate public engagement into its mission as it approaches its 50th anniversary, KSU is in the midst of a year-long community engagement project. Five teams are charged with planning in the areas of teaching, scholarship, service, infrastructure, and partnerships. Citizen Alum is consistent with the Engage KSU initiative already underway and offers a way to connect with the university’s many young alumni.

On the Horizon

The CA website is under construction. We should be online in May

Conferences and Meetings in 2012

Look for two Citizen Alum sessions at the American Democracy Project Conference June 7-9 San Antonio.

Join us at the Citizen Alum session at the Imagining America conference October 5-7 NYC

Looking Ahead to 2013

Discussion are underway about a Citizen Alum summer institute hosted by the Jandris Center for Innovation in Higher Education at the University of Minnesota. Stay tuned.

Georgia College hosts NIF Forum on Public Purposes of Higher Education

By Gregg Kaufman, ADP Campus Coordinator, Georgia College

Higher Education Forum at Georgia College

The Georgia College American Democracy Project’s Public Voice Partnership recently facilitated a “test forum” for a draft of a new National Issues Forum issue book, How Should Higher Education Help Us Create The Society We Want?

The forum was incorporated into a faculty workshop that explored how public deliberation methods can be used to enhance classroom discussion across the disciplines. Students, citizens, and faculty deliberated multiple options that offered distinctive actions aimed at imagining what we expect of colleges and universities with regard to creating the American society we want.

The issue book is related to the American Commonwealth Partnership mission of exploring higher education’s purposes and practices relative to civic life. The NIF authors observed the deliberation and participated in the workshop. The Georgia College forum is one of several forums being held on campuses and in communities prior to publishing the final version.

The Public Voice Partnership is the result of Georgia College’s participation with the Kettering Foundation research initiative, Organizing Centers for Public Life. Georgia College is the University System of Georgia’s designated Public Liberal Arts University.

For more information about ADP at Georgia College, go here.

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