SRU earns Carnegie Community Engagement Classification
Slippery Rock University has earned the 2020 Carnegie Community Engagement Classification, a national standard used by institutions for self-assessment and quality improvement of their community engagement.
Jan. 31, 2020
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — Slippery Rock University has earned the 2020 Carnegie Community Engagement Classification, a national standard used by institutions for self-assessment and quality improvement of their community engagement. SRU joins more than 240 institutions recognized with this classification by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, which is under the stewardship of the Swearer Center for Public Service at Brown University.
The classification is elective, meaning that it is based on voluntary participation by institutions. Seeking the classification involves data collection and documentation of important aspects of institutional mission, identity and commitments, and requires substantial effort by participating institutions.
The classification is not an award. It is an evidence-based documentation of institutional practice to be used in a process of self-assessment and quality improvement. In this way, it is similar to an accreditation process of self-study. The documentation is reviewed by a National Review Panel to determine whether institutions qualify for recognition as a community engaged institution.
"This is the highest form of recognition for community engagement among colleges and universities and we're thrilled that we earned this designation," said William Behre, SRU President. "Community-based learning and service learning are central to what we do at SRU because it allows our students to apply the knowledge and skills they learned in the classroom to real-world problems by connecting them with the community. This classification is a testament to the hard work of our faculty, staff and students and to the depth of our commitment to community engagement. "
Community engagement, as defined by the Carnegie Foundation, is the collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities for the mutually beneficial creation and exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity.
The announcement of the classification concludes a five-year process for SRU, during which it conducted a self-study, met the classification standards and completed an extensive application that was reviewed by a national committee. In 2016, SRU established its Office for Community-Engaged Learning under the direction of Jeffrey Rathlef, who served as chair of the University's six-member SRU Carnegie Community Engagement committee.
"It is both inspiring and gratifying to see this level of commitment at SRU toward improving the University, our partners and our communities," Rathlef said. "Being recognized as an 'engaged campus' means that we possess excellent alignment among campus mission, culture, leadership and resources that support community engagement."
According to the Carnegie Foundation, the purpose of community engagement is to:
• Enrich scholarship, research and creative activity.
• Enhance curriculum, teaching and learning.
• Prepare educated, engaged citizens
• Strengthen democratic values and civic responsibility.
• Address critical societal issues.
• Contribute to the public good.
Enhancements SRU has made toward community engagement include:
• In the last three years, the number of students taking "high-impact practice" service learning courses increased by 271%, to 1,368 students in the 2019-20 academic year. High-impact practices, or HIPs, are a set of tested teaching practices endorsed by the Association of American Colleges & Universities. Service learning courses are project-based experiences conducted in partnership with community stakeholders that promote student learning and development while simultaneously contributing to community-defined priorities in real ways.
• SRU provided grants and other support for faculty to conduct community-engaged work, as well as professional development opportunities related to community engagement that include on-campus Faculty Learning Communities.
• The University launched the nationally recognized Bonner Leader Program, where students receive a combination of an institutional scholarship and a paid student leadership position for leading a community-service partnership for the institution.
• SRU revised its strategic goal for community engagement to emphasize reciprocal partnerships, mutual benefit and democratic engagement with communities, as well as started assessing student, faculty and community outcomes to demonstrate the impact of community-engaged work and activities.
Examples of community partners include Becky Lubold, a resident of Slippery Rock and manager of the Slippery Rock Farmers Market, who last fall addressed community hunger needs with students in a freshman-level University Seminar course called Food Justice and got them involved with hunger relief efforts.
"My experience working with SRU has confirmed the value and potential for building true partnerships and collaboration," Lubold said. "Community partners are involved with SRU in ways that value their expertise and experience. Working with the University achieves benefits far beyond advice or donations; it enables us to learn together and achieve goals by connecting students to the community and empowering them to create positive change."
Service learning is not limited to just the University's local community. Nikol Damato, a senior dual history and interdisciplinary programs from Ellwood City, has helped coordinate global service learning programs in the OCEL, including a program in Cochabamba, Bolivia.
"Service learning has become more integrated into our campus and, as students, we've been presented more opportunities to learn and grow outside of the classroom," Damato said. "I've had to opportunity to travel, learn about social issues and develop my understanding of my own identity for making change. Students like me can take advantage of these opportunities to learn and serve and grow to become better students, citizens and professionals."
Faculty also benefit from community engagement as a teaching modality, according to Linda Zane, associate professor of elementary education and early childhood.
"Service learning is a great way to get students engaged with the course content outside the classroom in an authentic and meaningful way," Zane said. "They become much more invested and understand what it means to be a civically minded individual. As a professor, what better way to show the value of them investing in the community, because when people see that you are invested in them, they'll want to be more invested in you."
As part of the faculty assessment of outcomes, SRU's Carnegie Community Engagement committee made a proposal for revisions to promotion and tenure guidelines to more explicitly reflect community engagement, and it adopted and implemented a taxonomy for service learning courses that more clearly define course attributes.
In addition to Rathlef and Zane, other SRU's Carnegie Community Engagement committee members included: Laura Villers, associate director of community-engaged service and leadership; David Kershaw, associate professor of political science; Natalie Dick, assistant professor of health care administration and information systems; and Joseph Robare, associate professor of public health and social work.
SRU retains its classification for six years before it must reclassify.
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