Civic engagement projects combine academic learning (related to disciplinary concepts and skills) with civic action (such as service, advocacy, awareness-raising, community-based research, campaigning, or activism) to address a significant social or environmental issue in the community (e.g. immigration, education, pollution, injustice, etc.).
The College has established learning outcomes for civic engagement centered on applying your knowledge in a meaningful way to public problems, communicating in a civil manner, as well as assuming responsibility for collective problem-solving. Therefore, we aim for civic engagement experiences in which students can:
- Connect academic concepts to their civic engagement activities
- Engage in public issues in a way that evokes practice in civil communication
- Take meaningful action on authentic public problems
Developing a CE Project
We have some suggestions for students who are new to civic engagement or who are not sure how to proceed with getting involved. We find that a few key questions can spark students’ thinking about what is possible with civic engagement. The MCCE encourages students to reflect on these questions as part of their process to decide how to take action.
What do you care about? Consider what is important to you based on your personal / familial experiences, interests, goals, values, politics, background, identity, etc. People have many different motivations for civic engagement, all under the umbrella of working to make the world a better place.
Answers to this question can help you think about:
- Mission of organizations with whom you could partner or get involved
- Particular populations / clients / communities to focus on
What kind of work would you like to do? Consider your priorities among the following:
- Related to your major/minor/other academic interests
- Related to your career/professional development/grad school
- Personal interest
- Skills used/developed/practiced
- Personality (i.e., group or solitary work, amount of structure)
- Kind of work (e.g. physical labor, technical, etc.)
Answers to this question can help you think about:
- What you do / the nature or your tasks
- What is most appealing to you on the Social Change Wheel
What is the civic aspect of what you want to do? Consider what problem(s) your work is meant to solve or improve, ways in which the topic is something considered by voters, neighborhoods, populations, communities, etc…in other words, in what ways are you working a public problem of real significance and widespread relevance?
Answers to this question can help you think about
- Why what you do matters
- How what you do contributes to the public good
What are your practical constraints and opportunities? Consider your schedule, transportation, familial or work obligations, significant dates/travel/performance/athletic obligations, etc. As a practical matter, what and where are your opportunities for engagement? Answers to this question can help you think about:
- How you are going to make this experience happen
- Geographical areas or other practical issues
Tips for developing CE projects:
Please note that in civic engagement courses, students have varying degrees of choice in what they undertake for civic engagement, ranging from largely self-driven or group-determined projects to ones arranged ahead of the course by professors (usually out of necessity due to the nature of the experience or learning objectives). If you are reading this with a CE course in mind, make sure you understand the way civic engagement is structured in your class before proceeding.
Find organizations/institutions that are working in the same interest area OR think creatively about how you might begin solo work in that area of interest. McCall Center staff may be able to assist you in finding options. Imagine what steps you could take to fill a need in that organization/institution’s mission.
- Contact organizations/institution with a rough idea of what you could do and what you would like to do with. However, be open to hearing what they need, since CE should be about work that is mutually beneficial to you and the organization. You may need to meet with someone at the organization, complete an application, and/or do a background check, so be sure to plan accordingly.
- At the same time that you are exploring your options, consider your schedule, transportation, and other logistical constraints. Avoid getting to far down any path until you are pretty sure you can make it work as a practical matter.
Troubleshooting Civic Engagement Experiences
Civic engagement experiences do not always go perfectly. Most often, when they don’t, a conversation is the best way to work through what is going wrong and why. Whether it is your supervisor in the community, a peer work group, your professor, or someone else, engaging in conversations around what is not going well can be challenging, but also an opportunity for tremendous growth and skill building on top of an improved experience.
Some of the issues that may come up in civic engagement include:
- Conflicting expectations – supervisor/instructor/student
- Busy/unavailable supervisor/instructor/student
- Work is not what you expected
- Problems with a supervisory, co-worker, or peer
- Schedule changes/transportation problems/personal issues arise
- Extracting meaning and connections–work does not seem meaningful or relevant
- Difficult or unwelcoming environment for work
If you are doing civic engagement for a course, your first resource should always be your professor and/or class mentor (if there is one). The students on the Civic Action Team in the MCCE and MCCE director might also be resources for you.
What goes wrong, and whether it can be righted, is highly context dependent. The MCCE encourages students to be proactive, flexible, patient, communicative, and professional as they work through challenges of civic engagement as an activity of experiential learning.