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Civic Engagement

Meeting on Civic Engagement

8 October 2012

Attendees: Jessica Copeland, Bruce Coriell, John Gould, Sarah Hautzinger, Lani Hinkle, Mary Frances Kerr, Michaela Kobsa-Mark, Liz Lilly, Jeff Livesay, Dan Marion, Eric Popkin, Christine Siddoway, Mike Siddoway, Larry Stimpert, James Sylvester

The College’s Mission.  The de facto mission has been “do what you want to do,” reflecting an “anything-goes,” entrepreneurial attitude. CC would be stronger with some boundaries around that related to the mission, creating and expressing the college’s ideals—that is, “what I am supposed to be doing,” Emphasis on experiential learning is great, and the block plan allows faculty to do some really novel things, but we need a commitment about what is core to the institution.  Despite the mention of “block” and “region” in our current mission statement, the statement itself is really fairly generic. 

Engaged Teaching and Learning

Community-Based Learning (CBL) is more specific than engaged teaching and learning.  It includes interactions with a community that are 1) relational; 2) reciprocal; and 3) transformative. CBL-tagged courses in the Course Catalog are not limited to the Southwest region, but are also international.

Blended Learning.  Examples: the Math Department has a yearlong problem-solving seminar that is conducted under the auspices of preparing for a national competition, but whose underlying purpose is to build cohesion and support among the majors; the Political Science Department has a deep reading series, led by Tim Fuller and Eve Grace, that serves a similar purpose; there have been various initiatives to create hybridity to achieve some threads of continuity within the block plan, such as FYEs and the Writing Portfolio, but these may not be functioning as intended. 

Block Plan and Life Beyond College. “Life isn’t in 3 ½ week increments.”  CC’s life and culture has a “frenetic, staccato” rhythm.  We love our intensity, but may need to add a rhythm to bring it into a larger picture, whether a space or different kinds of relationships.  Students want to reflect on the continuity of life, both across blocks and also across academic and “real” life. CC’s culture may be seen as “binge and purge learning.”  How can CC somehow address this tendency on campus?  Has there been serious discussion about altering the block plan, such as block-quarter-block?  Experiential learning is essential to the cogency of college to life beyond college. 

Certificate for Community-Engaged Leadership (CEL) serve as an intentional model for self-authorship that bridges these gaps by means of cohorts that reflect on what student experience means.  Living-Learning Communities are a best practice in this arena.  Faculty-Staff partner mentoring component of the CEL program is one of its strengths.  Sustained, direct and heart-centered inquiry is an important facet of liberal arts colleges.  How do we scale up programs like these?

Self-Designed Majors.  Perhaps the goal of a CC education is for students to understand themselves via the experiences that build a self.  To do so, structures for nurturing the larger narrative must supersede the unconnected experiences of students.  Self-designed majors may fulfill that purpose.  Perhaps our current idiosyncratic process of self-designed majors can give way to new structures, such as first- or second-year minors, which then lead to designing majors. Qwest College in Canada, another school that has the block plan, has done something along those lines. 

Collaborations with Student Life. Such collaborations should have a wholly academic bent.  The should be Ph.D.-led programs.

Sense of Place

The Collaborative for Community Engagement, the Public Interest Fellowship Program (PIFP), and CBL courses are all very successful at taking advantage of a distinct sense of place.

The Block Plan and Community Service.  One of PIFP’s strengths is that it is not constrained to the block.  How does a student achieve real reciprocity in 3 ½ weeks?  “Choppiness” of the block.  What message does this choppiness send to community partners regarding student commitment and sustainability of work students do?  How do we characterize what we do, given our structure and its limits?  These conversations should include partners and donors.

Best Practices.  Examples: revised Southwest Studies internships and the Feminist and Gender Studies practicum.  Every offering need not be best practices.  More modest practices also have their key place.  Not a one-size-fits-all model.  We need to showcase the modest things as well.

Character.  CC is very active on a civic, community-engagement level, but students are personally discourteous.  See “The Disadvantages of an Elite Education” (American Scholar 2008).  Real harm is done.  Since the collapse of the living-wage campaign, much of the faculty’s response has been “studied disinterest.”  There is not great support for holding ourselves accountable.  As Sandi Wong said at the Fall Conference, speaking of the four-year residential experience, college is not just a cerebral experience and one of our goals should be to produce a certain kind of character. How do we pop the CC bubble?