Faculty from the University of North Georgia (UNG), one of only two public universities in the state to hold the prestigious Community Engagement Classification from The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, told colleagues from across the nation and world at a recent institute how service-learning and community partnerships can enhance academics.
Campus Compact's "Diving In: Institute for New Community Service-Learning Professionals," held in June at the University of Georgia (UGA), featured speakers from UNG and UGA, which also holds the Carnegie classification.
Dr. Mary Carney, director for UNG's Center for Teaching, Learning and Leadership and a speaker at "Diving In," said UNG's commitment to community engagement is reinforced by the university's strategic plan. Participating in "Diving In" was one step in further expanding UNG's engagement and educational opportunities, Carney said.
"UNG's involvement with Campus Compact and its institute augments our work to foster academic excellence in the context of strong, reciprocal partnership with our communities," Carney said. "On all of UNG's campuses, faculty, staff, and students are involved in building and furthering what the Carnegie Foundation defines as the gold-standard of community engagement — collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity."
Dr. Sheri Hardee, coordinator for UNG's Social Foundations of Education program and a CTLL service-learning faculty fellow, said time and funding are two of the most common issues institutions face when trying to organize community engagement – the former because of the buy in required from all parties to make the partnerships work.
"When all are involved in a reciprocal relationship is when change occurs, and I would hope that we want both our students and our community members to be change agents, critical thinkers, and problem solvers," said Hardee, an assistant professor of education. "An institution can only be as successful as the community in which it resides."
|Dr. Donna Gessell at Diving In.|
Dr. Donna Gessell, professor of English and former director of regional engagement, helped colleagues at "Diving In" understand the process of creating and sustaining community relationships.
"I discussed the theory behind this process but also added in practical experiences from UNG," Gessell said. "One example we used was the development and implementation of UNG's REED Task Force. I also used the acronym PARC (planning, action, reflection, celebration) to help frame the discussion. We want people to plan by examining partnerships in strategic ways, including viewpoints from schools, departments, communities, businesses, and individuals, and also within different contexts such as education or health. Planning is about 60 percent of the process."
Once planning is complete, the institution can take action by building relationships and then reflection allows an opportunity to place learning within the context of the partnerships, she said. Finally, celebration entails the need to recognize student, faculty and staff achievements. Gessell said it's also important to help an institution's engagement strategy fit its mission.
At an institute workshop, Carney, Gessell and Hardee suggested a framework for working through significant institutional change and steps toward implementing a new vision for institutional engagement.
"We gave the audience a service-learning/engagement matrix that they could take back to their institutions and use to plan for increasing the role of service-learning in their institutions," Hardee said. "We broke the matrix down into four parts; one of those parts is to 'Establish a Service-Learning Support Structure,' so I discussed how my role as faculty fellow helps establish this support for UNG faculty through communication, including initiatives such as workshops, sometimes on an individual level."
Other UNG faculty who also lent their voices and experience included Dr. David Connolly, assistant professor of history; Yi Deng, assistant professor of philosophy; Dr. Evan Lampert, assistant professor of biology; and Randall Parish, professor of political science.