As defined by The New York Times, civic engagement means working towards making a difference in our communities and “developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference.”
Keene State College has been nationally recognized for doing just that.
For its leadership and revolution in civic engagement, KSC has been awarded the 2017 Higher Education Civic Engagement Award from The Washington Center in Washington, D.C.. Out of 100 nominations, KSC was one of five colleges and universities to receive the award.
The theme for the award this year was partnerships, and KSC’s partnership with the Keene Housing Kids Collaborative (KHKC) was the reason for the award.
KHKC is a non-profit organization that helps build a foundation for children to prepare them for a successful adulthood. This is done “by giving kids access to opportunities and experiences in the community that will help them gain confidence, have fun, learn, get ready for kindergarten, do well in elementary school, and exit high school with the tools that will help them become economically independent adults,” according to the KHKC website.
KSC’s partnership with KHKC has involved many people and ideas. Program Manager for Diversity and Multiculturalism Initiatives and Campus Coordinator for the American Democracy Project Kim Schmidl-Gagne said the collaborative’s purpose is to acknowledge and recognize that there is generational poverty occurring.
“Kids that are born in poverty have a 48 percent chance of remaining in poverty and not having any social mobility whatsoever, and an additional 24 or so percent of them will move up just from poverty to lower class,” Schmidl-Gagne said.
The idea behind the partnership with KHKC has been thinking about what can be done with children in order to break this cycle.
Schmidl-Gagne and Professor of Economics Dr. Patrick Dolenc have been working on a longitudinal study with the KHKC to track students and see how different activities the collaborative provides gives them the skills and competencies to increase their school achievement.
Dolenc, who was on the original board of directors for KHKC, said the longitudinal study has allowed them to track what is and isn’t working at the collaborative, but with data to support the details.
Additionally, Executive Director of KHKC Liz Chipman said KSC faculty members and students have been an integral part in maintaining the partnership they have with one another. Sociology students have come to the collaborative and completed focus groups with both parents and students by asking questions to discover the impact the collaborative is having on kids and their families. KSC graphic design students designed and developed the KHKC website, and volunteer organizations, such as the KSC Reads program, helped develop a reading nook at one of the centers to encourage early reading and literacy development. Last year, Chipman said KSC students helped to fill over 1,000 Easter eggs for families as well.
Dolenc said not only children in local housing at KHKC benefit, but KSC students do as well. “Our programs become, I think, richer when we can do real world stuff that connects the classroom learning to experience, so that’s fantastic. Getting national recognition is really kind of a nice bonus; it’s like icing on the cake so to speak,” Dolenc said.
KSC sociology major and psychology minor and senior Saunder Barnicle was among the students who were directly involved with the partnership at KHKC.
In a class she took called Sociology of Families with Dr. Peggy Walsh, she said she spent class time brainstorming ideas on how to get more students living in the housing facilities involved, as well as went door-to-door to explain the options to families and hand out brochures.
“It shows that Keene State students were so excited to be involved with something so new. We were excited to get out into the community and it really felt like we were doing something,” Barnicle said.
Chipman said the partnership with KSC has helped her to do many things she wouldn’t necessarily be able to.
“I think sometimes campuses can be kind of closed universes, kind of closed worlds, one for themselves, and that is not the case at Keene State at all. I think there’s a real effort on the part of the college, the faculty and administration at the college and also on student’s part to really be part of the community and to be civically engaged,” Chipman said.
“You know, they put their money where their mouth is so to speak and really not just talking about it, but doing it. It’s a really fabulous collaboration that I hope will continue.”
As a whole, KSC has not yet made an institutional commitment to civic engagement, Dolenc said, but the college has a unique way of connecting it with other learning outcomes.
“What makes civic engagement so magical at Keene State is that we connect it with other college-wide learning outcomes like critical thinking. So if you do critical thinking and you do civic engagement that’s great, but if you figure out how they fit together, it’s even more powerful,” Dolenc said.
With the award comes a student scholarship to The Washington Center for the Inside Washington seminar in January.
Schmidl-Gagne said nominations have been sent out to faculty and staff members across campus and a selection committee will, then, look through the nominations and select a student to attend, free of charge.
Guilford College, Northern Arizona University, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the State University of New York, College at Plattsburgh were among the other four institutions to receive the 2017 Higher Education Civic Engagement Award as well.
Jessica Ricard can be contacted at email@example.com