CCSR Faculty Fellow Blog

by Heather Getha-Taylor | CCSR Faculty Fellow
Associate Professor, School of Public Affairs and Administration


How engaged is your department?

Preparing students to address vexing community issues is a core responsibility for institutions of higher learning. Our students should have the chance to explore the big questions of society in the classroom and beyond. How can we, for instance, remedy such intractable problems as hunger and homelessness, climate change and sustainability, or discrimination and inequality? One of the ways we can help our students understand and address such challenges is through service learning opportunities.

The University of Kansas notes the importance of such efforts as evidenced by Bold Aspirations and the KU Core. Yet, the success of these initiatives rests on the sustained commitment of faculty members. This investment depends on tangible resources, guidance and support, as well as role models and mentoring that together signal that engaged scholarship and social responsibility are shared priorities. Where these illustrations are most evident and impactful is within the faculty member’s academic home.

Service learning expert, Dr. Barbara Jacoby, addresses the ways in which departments can support faculty efforts in her 2015 book, Service Learning Essentials: Questions, Answers, and Lessons Learned. A department’s level of “engagement” can be a powerful predictor of faculty involvement or lack thereof. How do you know if your department is “engaged”? According to Jacoby, engaged departments:

  • take a department-level approach to integrating, expanding, and deepening community engagement by utilizing service-learning broadly and deeply as a pedagogy to achieve desired learning outcomes;
  • sustain authentic, mutually beneficial partnerships with communities or community-based organizations; and
  • support community-based research by faculty and students.

To assess the current level of engagement in your department, Jacoby recommends that you ask the following questions:

  • Is service learning integrated into your department’s curriculum? Are service-learning courses offered regularly and by different faculty members?
  • Are faculty members rewarded for research, teaching, and service that make contributions to both the academic discipline and the broader community?
  • Do students engage with the community through course activities and also student organizations?

If your department is not as engaged as you might expect, consider the following steps:

  • Begin a conversation within your department. Talk with your colleagues about service learning and how you might take collective steps to integrate this focus into your teaching and research.
  • Identify examples of service learning success. Find relevant examples to demonstrate the value of service learning in your area of study and inspire faculty members to begin their own initiatives.
  • Utilize existing resources. The KU Center for Civic and Social Responsibility can help you get started or expand your current service learning efforts. Check out their upcoming workshops, Big Shares, and other opportunities.

Engaged departments signal to their members that service learning matters. By enhancing the role of service learning in our classrooms and in our scholarship, we underscore the impact that KU can have on the local and global community. When departments value service learning, they support faculty efforts to prepare future leaders who will address our shared societal challenges. Just like the old adage says about charity, connecting academics and social issues “starts at home.”

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