November 07, 2012

University will help lead service-learning initiative

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale is one of just 50 colleges and universities chosen as a lead institution for the Civic and Democratic Learning Initiative, a national effort to enhance service-learning, volunteerism and civic engagement.

The National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, or NASPA-Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, sponsors the program.  SIU Carbondale was chosen from among 1,400 member institutions to participate on the basis of its outstanding work to advance service initiatives.  The Center for Service Learning and Volunteerism is leading the efforts on campus and is undertaking several projects as a lead institution.

The center facilitated a pair of student-led dialogues about politics and the public life in October, prior to the presidential election.  The dialogue focus, featuring lively discussion, was the impact of the students’ votes and analysis of which candidate won the debates.

A second, significant project is set for next spring.  The project will determine the extent and impact of SIU’s civic engagement on campus and in the community.  Key faculty, staff, students and community members will participate. 

The center received a $1,000 Bringing Theory to Practice grant from the American Association of Colleges and Universities to fund the initial meeting and the study.  Study results will be a report distributed on campus and to NASPA next fall. The center is actively pursuing external funding, such as this grant, as it seeks to expand the University’s civic mission, officials said.

Plans are also under way for a new campus Women’s Civic Institute in spring 2013.  Center co-directors Mythili Rundblad and Roudy Hildreth, an assistant professor in political science, are spearheading the project.  The Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies and University Women’s Professional Advancement are providing support.

The Civic and Democratic Learning Initiative is the result of efforts of the National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement.  The United States Secretary of Education, White House Office on Civic Engagement and the Association of American Colleges and Universities sponsored the task force, and their work wrapped up with the publication of “Crucible Moment:  College Learning and Democracy’s Future.” The publication was part of a presentation at a White House event this past January, “Reclaiming the Civic Mission of Higher Education.”