Your organization’s chances of being “matched” will be highest if the project can connect to the core pursuits of college students and faculty, and in so doing integrate with and enhance what they are already doing. These core pursuits include: teaching and taking courses, producing research in the classroom and for senior thesis projects, and completing senior capstone projects for CCE programs. Great project ideas thus include: community-engaged research projects, community-engaged learning course project ideas, and community-engaged thesis and capstone project ideas. Below are some guiding definitions of each of these areas:
RESEARCH – knowledge production through systematic inquiry and analysis.
COMMUNITY-ENGAGED RESEARCH – research that invests the pursuit of knowledge in the public good.
While there are a number of definitions and forms of community-engaged research, some core defining characteristics include:
- Researchers use a collaborative approach in which non-academic communities or organizations are equitable thought partners and in some cases co-researchers. Research is conducted with, rather than on, the community. Ideally, communities most impacted by an issue identify the needs or questions addressed by the research project.
- Community-engaged research aims to integrate knowledge and action. This means directing learning and inquiry to actionable knowledge – that which can lead to desired social change – and disseminating research findings in ways that aim to mobilize or inform collective action.
COMMUNITY-ENGAGED LEARNING is experiential education that simultaneously – and in roughly equal balance – promotes student learning and meets community needs.
These courses aim to benefit both students and communities through:
- directing education toward the pursuit of co-creating solutions to complex social challenges and in so doing impacting the public good; and
- actively developing engaged citizenship knowledge, skills, and motivation to empower students to build the worlds they imagine.
ACADEMIC CAPSTONE/THESIS – Expectations vary by major, but a senior thesis is a culminating work (often written) in which students synthesize and apply their knowledge of the discipline to an original question or topic. Theses demonstrate mastery of the field as well as the student’s ability to contribute an original argument or creative work to an intellectual community.
COMMUNITY-ENGAGED CAPSTONE – The Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) have been calling these "community-engaged signature works," which they define as “culminating experience – or a signature work – in which students synthesize their knowledge and skills across general education, majors, the co-curriculum, and off-campus study, applying what they know and can do to important, unscripted real-world problems” (Hoy and Wolfe 2016).
Key elements of a community-engaged capstone include:
- Project-based: has a beginning, end, and outcome
- Integrative: connects identity, engaged commitments, and academic interests
- Culminating, signature experience that organically builds on college experience
- Co-created with communities beyond the campus, addresses community-identified needs