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Community-engaged learning to build on colleges’ strengths

Five years into its mission to make community-engaged learning a hallmark of the Cornell undergraduate experience – and building on the passion and commitment of faculty, staff and students across the university – the Office of Engagement Initiatives (OEI) is launching an engaged college initiative.

Beginning this fall, OEI is collaborating with individual colleges and schools that want to make community-engaged learning (CEL) a central part of their curricular, co-curricular and research programs. Through the initiative, OEI will provide three-year foundation-building block grants, consultations and training and build long-term partnerships with college leadership teams.

“OEI’s engaged college initiative builds on the unique characteristics of each college,” said Katherine McComas, vice provost for engagement and land-grant affairs. “It also draws on the strengths of the OEI staff and programs. By working together, we’re poised to make community-engaged learning a distinguishing feature within the individual colleges and across Cornell University.”

Two college collaborations are launching this fall: Cornell SC Johnson College of Business and the College of Human Ecology (CHE). The College of Architecture, Art and Planning collaboration is expected launch in the spring.

Each college voluntarily opts in to the initiative and is added in a phased approach, beginning with a partnership agreement between OEI and the college dean.

“Community-engaged learning is about building a better world together. It’s a powerful way to enrich student learning, develop empathy and build belonging, while benefitting communities,” said Richard Kiely, senior fellow in OEI. “As we talk with college leadership teams, they’re excited about how CEL can unify their unique schools, majors and programs around a common vision.”

Each college will tailor the initiative to fit its priorities, while building on Cornell’s established definition for community-engaged learning, which:

  • addresses a specific community interest, problem or public concern;
  • includes working with and learning from a community partner;
  • connects and integrates community-engaged experiences with educational content; and
  • includes structured, documented critical reflection.

The Office of Engagement Initiatives and leadership across Cornell established these criteria in 2015 when they were first used to designate community-engaged learning courses.

“I could not be more excited about this opportunity to propel our college’s work on engaged learning into new realms,” said Kevin Hallock, dean of the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business. “We have faculty with deep experience in community-engaged learning, and the desire for social impact coursework and programs among prospective and current students is enormous and expanding.

“Our new collaboration with OEI,” Hallock said, “will help us further align our shared goals and maximize our impact on student learning, faculty research and shared prosperity.”

The Cornell SC Johnson College of Business has formed an Engaged College Advisory Committee to steward the initiative and build on established curricular and co-curricular CEL activities across its three schools, such as:

  • the Dyson Grand Challenge projects, required for graduation from the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management;
  • the Roy H. Park Leadership Fellows Program at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, built on active community-based leadership; and
  • the School of Hotel Administration’s allowance of community-based work experience to meet its hospitality/service industry practice credit requirement.

Rachel Dunifon, the Rebecca Q. and James C. Morgan Dean of CHE, said the college is looking forward to working with OEI.

“As a land-grant college, we understand the value of connecting education, research and public engagement,” Dunifon said. “Doing so benefits not just our community, but also our students, faculty and staff. With this support, we will be able to infuse community-engaged learning throughout our college, enhancing our educational programs, and giving students the perspectives and tools that they need to understand and tackle some of the most pressing challenges related to human health and well-being.”

The block grant will be used to expand and support coursework providing community-engaged learning opportunities as well as community-engaged projects for students outside the classroom, Dunifon said. The funding will also be used to increase opportunities for students to collaborate with faculty on engaged research.

The Office of Engagement Initiatives will continue to offer grants, workshops, programs and resources outside the college-based collaborations. The office will also remain Cornell’s central community-engaged learning hub, convening cross-college discussions and projects, and tracking and reporting CEL impact and benefits on students and communities.

Ashlee McGandy is the content strategist in the Office of Engagement Initiatives.

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Abby Butler