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
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!