Civic Engagement

Article by: Dr. Quintin Bullock, CCAC President

You may have already guessed that, as president of a community college, I have a deep professional and personal interest in actively participating in community groups and events that are dedicated to making a positive difference. That is why this month, I want to talk about something near and dear to my heart: civic engagement.

Civic engagement is one of those phrases that encompasses so many different variables that I feel compelled first to define what I mean when I say “civic engagement.”

As Thomas Ehrlich wrote in the excellent anthology Civic Responsibility and Higher Education, civic engagement can be described as “working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference.”

In short, civic engagement is an umbrella term that can refer to any action that taken specifically to help support or get involved with the community. But what does that look like in action?

Some of you, upon reading the phrase “civic engagement”, may have immediately thought of exercising your right to vote. That is certainly one way to practice active civic engagement—volunteering at your local polling place or participating in a voter registration drive are some others along the same vein.

Volunteerism is another facet many people think of when talking about civic engagement, and the number of ways to get involved in your community by volunteering your time or resources are far too numerous for me to list out here. Suffice to say, no matter what your interests, talents or availability, there is an organization in your own backyard that would be delighted to put your skills to good use.

These are all outstanding ways to foster positive change in your community, and I encourage each and every one of you to consider how you are best able to get involved. To help you get started, here are just a few avenues for civic engagement available to you at CCAC:

  • Join a student club or organization at your campus or center—many student organizations perform community service projects as a group activity.
  • Visit the Student Life office at your campus or center to ask about service projects or other opportunities. CCAC often hosts blood drives, voter registration activities, and food and clothing drives throughout the school year.
  • Follow the CCAC Democracy Board at your campus or on Facebook and Twitter and keep your eye out for the community discussion question of the week.
  • Contact the Frieda G. Shapira Center for Learning Through Service at CCAC for more great resources and information on how you can get involved in your community both on and off campus. One such resource is Pittsburgh Cares, a nonprofit that helps match interested volunteers with service opportunities.

One important aspect of civic engagement that I want to make sure to emphasize here is the second half of Ehrlich’s definition of civic engagement: the development of “knowledge, skills, values and motivation”. Civic engagement, at its core, begins with the caring, capable individual who sees themselves as part of a larger whole.

Just by continuing your studies at CCAC, know that you are already practicing one type of civic engagement—you are continuing your pursuit of knowledge and self-improvement so that, in time, you may devote those skills towards making your community a better place. Way to go!

Before I sign off here, I want to mention one last exciting avenue for civic engagement that is particularly relevant to new graduates: service learning opportunities. In addition to serving the needs of your local community, service learning opportunities can also provide valuable working experience which may help you along the course of your career.

We are fortunate enough to have with us two recent graduates who chose to participate in service learning programs when they completed their undergraduate studies. I’d like to take a moment to publicly acknowledge and thank them for their hard work and dedication and to showcase some of the projects they’ve been involved with here at CCAC.

Katlyn Alves, an emerging community engagement professional in higher education, is with us through the PA Campus Compact AmeriCorps*VISTA program. Since July 2016, Katlyn has primarily worked to research, plan, and implement the America Reads program. America Reads is a federal initiative which allows CCAC students who are eligible for financial aid to earn their work-study awards while serving as literacy tutors for local elementary school students, at no cost to the community.

We are delighted that Katlyn has decided to extend her VISTA service contract, and will continue her fine work on this and many other capacity building projects at CCAC for another calendar year!

Paul Von Autenried is with us through the Coro Fellowship in Public Affairs, a prestigious program designed to help recent college graduates develop their leadership, communication skills and public service experience through a series of rotations with organizations (such as CCAC) who serve diverse populations in high impact urban areas. When his year of service comes to a close, Paul hopes to work towards his aspiration of becoming a criminal prosecutor by enrolling in law school in the fall.

Paul has been hard at work on a number of projects at CCAC with a focus on improving gender equity in Career and Technical Education programs, including tomorrow’s exciting Career Exploration Day: Women in Skilled Trades event at CCAC West Hills Center from 12:00pm to 4:00pm. I hope to see you there!


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