Introduction to Civic Engagement & Service-Learning

Daniel Baird and Lisa Packer

 

WHAT IS CIVIC ENGAGEMENT?

Your college experience will prepare you to make a living, follow a career path, and find self-fulfillment. Yet it should go beyond these self-oriented goals in that it also should prepare you for civic engagement. Civic engagement can be thought of as being involved in solving social problems or improving the community. Being civically engaged during college means learning about and participating in community investment through individual, club, and class activities and assignments.


“I think [civic engagement] means that community service goes hand-in-hand with getting a higher education. Just as an individual invests in a degree in order to begin or advance their careers, they should also invest in the community where they will advance in age and/or their children will be born into. I think it’s especially important to set good examples of community service to younger generations so that they can continue implementing good acts and keep the cycle going.”

—Previous English Student


How Civic Engagement Benefits You

Those who participate in civic engagement tend to have higher grades, are more likely to graduate, and have a more meaningful class experience. Giving something back to the community is just as important as learning in class, and by doing both you can be prepared to be a good citizen in your community, workplace, and in your life. Other benefits include:

  • A more complex understanding of communal, societal, and global issues
  • Developed critical thinking and problem-solving skills
  • Increased involvement and connection with the community through mutual learning and helping
  • Enhanced learning due to practical application of skills
  • Heightened empathy for others
  • Developed ability to help and serve others
  • Practice in analyzing and implementing public action
  • Increased personal development, including confidence and self-esteem
  • Networking opportunities to support career development

How Civic Engagement Benefits the Community

Your service will also benefit your community. Whether you are serving others at a shelter, designing a marketing pamphlet for a nonprofit, translating documents into another language for an elementary school, or tutoring high school students in math, your service has a lasting impact. You can learn more about what other students have done by reading the newsletter Reflections.

And there are other ways your involvement helps the community. Stanford University’s Hass Center for Public Service has defined six pathways of public service and civic engagement. These six, including service, are community-engaged learning and research, activism, philanthropy, being involved in the political process and governance, and entrepreneurial and corporate social responsibility. To learn more about these see their video on Pathways of Public Service and Civic Engagement.

What Civic Engagement Is Not

Sometimes we misunderstand the purpose of service and may do more harm than good in the community. It is not:

  • Taking pity on others
  • Just community volunteering (instead, it combines academic learning with ongoing service)
  • An opportunity to show others the “right” way to do things
  • Proselytizing

 

HOW CIVIC ENGAGEMENT WORKS IN THE DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH, LINGUISTICS, AND WRITING STUDIES (ELWS)

Civic Engagement and Service-Learning Courses

You can participate in civic engagement in several ways in the English, Linguistics, and Writing Studies Department. One way is by taking officially designated service-learning courses. These courses allow you to apply what you are learning to real-world settings and you are able to demonstrate your learning through your service with a non-profit organization.


“Service-learning is not volunteering; it is service tied to learning, putting knowledge into action.” 

—Lucy Smith (Engaged Learning Coordinator) 


Typically in a service-learning class you will give service either directly or indirectly by working with a nonprofit organization. You may also have the opportunity to research on a topic related to the community.

You can find out more by reading “Service-Learning in English Composition Courses.” For more information on service-learning in general see the Engaged Learning Office’s overview of Service-Learning.


“Service-learning programs involve students in activities that address local needs while developing their academic skills and commitment to their community.”

—Blinn College


Civic Orientation Across the Curriculum and Writing as a Form of Action for Social Change

Not all faculty will officially designate their course as a service-learning course. There are, however, other ways you can participate in civic engagement in a class. For example an instructor may ask you to research a topic on social equity or other community issues. Another instructor may focus their course around a theme such as researching food sustainability. There are many ways an instructor can give you opportunities to research and write about community issues that are of interest to you.

Civically Engaged Scholars

You can also participate in the The Civically Engaged Scholars (CES) program. CES provides you with an opportunity to have a larger community-engaged experience during college. You will have the opportunity to participate in various forms of leadership, both on campus and in the community, and to foster social equity and justice. The values and goals promoted by CES reflect the idea that Salt Lake Community College is an “engaged campus.” This acknowledges that SLCC is a part of the larger community and emphasizes the importance of mutually beneficial relationships with that community. The ELWS Department promotes CES for its majors and also provides service-learning courses for those in other majors who are looking to fulfill general education requirements.

Upon graduation, Civically Engaged Scholars receive a special distinction on their transcript, a designation at graduation with a blue honors cord, a letter from the President of SLCC for Graduation, a letter of recommendation from the CES Coordinator if requested, an e-Portfolio that showcases their civic engagement, networking opportunities, and referrals to other institutions of higher education.  To learn more about Civically Engaged Scholars in the ELWS Department, please fill out this form. You can also contact Clint Gardner at Clint.Gardner@slcc.edu to learn more about CES and ELWS.

Read About Other Students’ Service

The Department of English, Linguistics, and Writing Studies newsletter, Reflections, contains stories by students who have been involved in civic engagement, including service-learning classes and as civically engaged scholars. It occasionally includes stories about service done by your instructors as well.

Finding an Instructor in ELWS That Offers Civic Engagement Including Service-Learning Courses

Many instructors include some form of civic engagement as part of their course. It may be centered around the course itself such as ENGL 2460 Writing and Social Justice. Other instructors simply feel very strongly about community engagement and include it as part of their course.

Instructors can officially designate their course as a service-learning course. Depending on the instructor, certain service-learning opportunities will be optional but encouraged. Instructors understand that due to work commitments or other circumstances not everyone can participate in service-learning during a semester. Some instructors, however, may require service-learning participation for the course.

Officially designated service-learning courses are so noted in MySLCC when you register (see Fig. 1 below). Also, a list of the instructors that teach service-learning is available on the ELWS website. The Engaged Learning Office keeps a list of all designated service-learning courses.

Fig. 1. Finding service-learning courses when registering.

Defining Service Opportunities

Here are some ways you can combine service with learning:

  • Direct service ― Directly serving a population either as an individual or on behalf of an organization such as a nonprofit or a religious entity, for example serving meals to the homeless and through reflection and other writing prompts fulfill class assignments.
  • Indirect service (usually projects) ― Usually understood as off-site/online service such as updating an organization website or creating a pamphlet, etc. The service also fulfills a class assignment. The Engaged Learning office offers funding for eligible projects.
  • Non-direct service ― Where one does not directly serve people but works behind the scenes on something that will have an impact on society, for example removing invasive plants from the Jordan River waterway, etc. and through reflection and other writing prompts fulfill class assignments.
  •  Raise awareness or propose a solution ― Find a problem you think can be improved by raising awareness, teaching people how to do something, or marketing a solution to the problem you’ve chosen. You could write a report detailing the problem, write a proposal explaining the problem and your solution, or design a pamphlet or website to address the issue. For example, how could you use the skills and abilities of your major or career field to improve education for K–12? Or is there a social issue you feel strongly about and would like to research and suggest a solution? Some issues could be:
    • Abuse (sexual, physical or other)
    • Animal rights
    • Gender imbalance in STEM subjects
    • Homelessness
    • Structural inequities such as the school-to-prison pipeline
    • Unequal access to healthcare
    • Vulnerable populations such as children or the elderly
  • Alternative fall/spring break or weekend service ― For both fall and spring break, the Thayne Center offers local, and national service opportunities. Information about these opportunities can be found in SLCC Groups. Similarly some community partners offer service opportunities on weekends for students who cannot give service during the week.
  • Advocacy work ― Active support of an idea or cause, especially the act of pleading or arguing for something, typically performed in a political context. An example might be coordinating a letter-writing campaign to educate the Salt Lake Valley about domestic violence and creating resources for survivors.
  • Research & consultation ― Using an academic skill set to investigate an issue impacting a community organization and presenting this knowledge in a way that benefits the work of that organization. For example, gathering statistics about Salt Lake children in foster care and presenting research and recommendations to the Salt Lake County Division of Youth Services is research and consultation.

 

GET INVOLVED!

Your participation in civic engagement is reciprocal: it will not only benefit your community, but it will also result in a more meaningful class experience through practical application of skills. In other words, it will be a highlight of your time at SLCC as your homework benefits the community you serve.  You will also have a better understanding of issues that face the community in which you live. As Elisa Stone said in her article, “Writing For Community Change,”  “Service benefits those who serve just as much as the recipients; it is reciprocity that keeps this practice at the heart of meaningful education.”

So if you haven’t already, take advantage of the many opportunities to combine learning with civic engagement in the Department of English, Linguistics, and Writings Studies at Salt Lake Community College.

 

RESOURCES

 

FURTHER READING

License

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Open English @ SLCC by Daniel Baird and Lisa Packer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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