From service-learning courses suchas Activism and Outreach Through Theater to tutoring programs at Middletown schools, Wesleyan provides students many opportunities to get involved outside the Ivory Tower. On Jan. 29, however, a joint faculty and staff committee submitted a proposal that would make the University’s commitment to community service official. A new Civic Engagement Certificate (CEC) is currently being reviewed by the Educational Policy Committee (EPC), which consists of two WSA members, six faculty members, and Provost Joseph Bruno. If approved, the certificate will appear on WesMaps, the University’s course catalog, next fall.
“This allows students who are involved in different forms of civic engagement at Wesleyan to tie them all together into a coherent program with an academic component,” said Civic Engagement Committee member and Sociology Professor Rob Rosenthal.
If approved, the certificate would be available to members of the class of 2013 and subsequent classes. According to the proposal, students will not have to fulfill any requirements before applying to the CEC.
The proposed program would have a range of requirements starting with a foundation course geared towards sophomores interested in pursuing the certificate. Tentatively scheduled to be taught by Rosenthal next fall, the course would present civic engagement from a historical perspective and analyze its significance.
In addition to the gateway course, students would need to take five other civic engagement courses.
The proposal lists courses offered during the 2009-2010 academic year that theoretically could meet that requirement including Conservation of Aquatic Ecosystems, an Earth and Environmental Science course, Physics for Future Presidents, a Physics course, and Sociology of Economic Change: Latin American Responses to Global Capitalism, a course in the Sociology Department.
Outside of the classroom, students would need to complete two or more semesters of service work through the Office of Community Service and Volunteerism (OCS), in addition to an internship that could be done either during the academic year or over the summer.
“We want students to have some practical experience,” said Civic Engagement Committee Chair and Service Learning Center Director Professor Suzanne O’Connell.
In their senior year, students would take a senior seminar capstone course to complete the certificate. The capstone course, which would not be offered until the current freshmen are seniors, would require students to work together on a larger project focusing on civic engagement at Wesleyan.
“We want the CEC students to be a cohort,” O’Connell said. “Students that are spending time together, working together, and talking about civic engagement.”
President Michael Roth approved the Civic Engagement Committee in the 2007-2008 academic year in order to establish a stronger niche for civic engagement at the University.
“The effort to develop a certificate in civic engagement is coming from faculty,” Roth said. “I’m really supportive of it. I’ve been talking about Wesleyan and civic engagement and politically-active students since I returned to Wesleyan and people had been talking about it long before I came.”
The committee, composed of Associate Provost Karen Anderson, Center for Community Partnerships (CCP) Director Frank Kuan, Director of Community Service and Volunteering Cathy Lechowicz, Vice President for Diversity and Strategic Partnerships Sonja Mañjon, Government Professor Don Moon, Director of Strategic Initiatives Charles Salas, Career Resource Center Director Michael Sciola, Rosenthal, and O’Connell, began developing a comprehensive program that originally included not only a certificate, but also hiring a new faculty member, funding for student internships, and extensive plans for community work with Long Lane Farm.
“We planned a very elaborate, expensive program with multiple parts, new professors, internships, but then the bottom fell out of the economy,” O’Connell said. “To save on the important components we pared the CEC down to what we could do with no money. It’s still a fabulous endeavor and that’s the civic engagement proposal that’s gone to the EPC.”
If the CEC is approved, a panel consisting of the Director of the Service Learning Center, the Director of Community Service and Volunteerism, the Director of Community Relations, and two other faculty members will administer the certificate.
“We’re pretty much ready,” Rosenthal said. “It’s a work in progress, but I think the thing to do is to get it going through this gateway course and the formation of a committee that would be watching how it develops over the next couple years.”
In December, Kathlyn Pattillo ’12 attended a meeting to give student input on the proposal.
“My feeling is that they haven’t got very much student input,” Pattillo said. “And I voiced that in the meeting. I feel like moving forward they need to get students involved in the committee.”
According to both Rosenthal and O’Connell, input from faculty and staff influenced the initial formation of the certificate far more than ideas from students. However, if the proposal is approved, ideas from students will take on a greater role in future development.
“Once we figure out how the program goes, students will be involved in working to shape it,” O’Connell said.
Regardless, Pattillo said she is pleased that the University is giving service-learning and civic engagement greater priority in academics.
“I think it’s really great that the University is placing such an emphasis on service-learning,” Pattillo said. “Tufts has a major emphasis on public service already. I think this is a really positive step in that direction.”
While the proposal was organized by staff and faculty, Rosenthal said the motivation came from students.
“Just from students themselves, there’s a real desire for putting the whole thing together and thinking through issues: ethical questions, questions of the individual,” Rosenthal added. “These are things that are covered from time to time in different classes. The certificate program will allow [students] to engage [these things] in a body of thought.”