Civic & Community Engagement & Research
This entity is the primary vehicle at Millersville University to foster, focus and coordinate civic and community engagement and research. We define "civic engagement" as efforts targeted at students, faculty and staff to increase their understanding, interest, and participation in social, civic, and political institutions. "Community engagement" connotes efforts that are primarily intended to have an impact on the community, here and outside this region. Community engagement may also facilitate student development by enabling students to see themselves as impacted by their communities' problems and capable of developing solutions to those problems.
To borrow from Thomas Jefferson, the youth of the next generation are to be the leaders of the next and the "guardians of the principles we deliver over to them." As well, recent scholarly work and public comment from across the political spectrum have reinforced the notion that universities and the communities they reside in have a mutual obligation to one another. Public universities in particular have a duty to educate the people of their states and commonwealths, and to develop not simply well-prepared workers, but also upstanding and productive members of the communities in which they reside. Likewise, communities at all levels (local, regional, national, international) face problems that also impact on universities, and universities are uniquely equipped to offer assistance in the development of solutions to those problems. Civic and Community Engagement at Millersville University will work to build upon these mutual obligations of university and community, by enabling students, faculty and staff to participate fully and thoughtfully in their communities and by offering its services to communities in order to work hand-in-hand to develop solutions to problems that face us all.
The creation of this unit is a culmination of many decades of substantial and continuing community outreach by Millersville University faculty, staff and students. As a respected public university that traditionally has largely educated first generation students, most from working or middle class or impoverished families, this university is well situated to play a leading role in the search for fresh ideas and approaches that serve these populations and others. Moreover, Millersville has adopted the goal of infusing student education with civic engagement and service learning experiences. This reflects a belief that leadership education and opportunities should be extended broadly so that the unique perspectives of student bodies like Millersville's lead and contribute to ongoing dialogues about better paradigms for educational reform, sustainable economic growth and social progress generally. Because an overwhelming majority of this university community has been directly affected by the issues upon which Civic and Community Engagement will focus, its efforts will be fueled by a level of energy and dynamism that will be special and legitimizing.
Activities and research projects will be initiated on the regional level, with special efforts to form collaborative efforts with similarly concerned regional partners. However, because the causes of intractable educational, economic and social disparities are rarely just regional, there necessarily will be linkages with national and international organizations and agencies with respect to matters of overlapping and/or common concerns. We envision that the center will engage in a variety of activities, such as:
- Foster collaborations across disciplines and sectors (e.g., education, business, social service and government agencies, faith communities, and grass root organizations);
- Provide opportunities for faculty, students and staff to engage in and contribute their expertise in searching for creative and pragmatic solutions to challenges facing our region, nation and the world;
- Develop new models, provide expertise, and create linkages to address relevant issues; and
- Conduct, publish and disseminate results of sponsored research, polling, open-ended interviewing, mass media educational communication, teleconferencing, online and print, cross-cultural consulting, and training, conferences and other media.
Our approach to community engagement will be to enlist meaningful participation across the political spectrum to form consensus about the identification of, if not always the solutions to, important educational, social and economic problems. While diversity of opinion is cherished in democratic communities, there is a worrisome trend of increasing partisan and ideological divisiveness in American society. Our hope is to help raise the level of public awareness about and responsiveness to the persistent and widening economic and social disparities across class, ethnic and racial lines by engaging our students, faculty, staff and others in the search for creative and pragmatic solutions that translate sound theory into effective action. The centers of Civic and Community Engagement will sponsor forums, studies, projects and services related to the core mission of promoting community and civic engagement and research. The foci of these activities will include but not be limited to: the educational achievement gap, including the lags in mathematics, science and technology among American students generally; the political and social consequences of declining community engagement and political participation; the diminution of economic security for the average worker, including the impact of workforce globalization; stemming urban decline; economic development; the energy problem; threats to or the loss of natural resources vital to the economic well being of communities; basic health and nutrition imperatives, especially for children; the study of the social and economic consequences of immigration; and the effects of the intolerance of cultural differences.
This civic and community engagement and research agenda complements that of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) which is the professional organization for public colleges and universities (See www.aascu.org). In 2002, AASCU launched the American Democracy Project which is “a multi-campus initiative that seeks to create an experiential understanding of civic engagement for undergraduates enrolled at AASCU institutions, including Millersville University. Our goal is to produce graduates who understand and are committed to engaging actions as citizens in a democracy.” Likewise, we have the opportunity to be at the forefront of the civic engagement movement by coupling student, faculty and staff participation in their communities with the offering to those communities of our unique capacities as an institution to work with them. We fervently believe that this can result in the development of more livable and hospitable communities.