Student Reflection:
          New Initiative Prompts Discussion on Civic Purpose of Higher Education

By Ryan A. Smith, Class of 2014, Management Major

Bucknell's faculty, staff, and students have come together to wrestle with the civic mission of higher education in an initiative called The Civic Series.  Based on a monograph produced by the Bringing Theory to Practice Initiative of the American Assn. of Universities and Colleges, this project involves reading and discussion groups.  Other campuses have used the provocative readings to reconsider the public purpose of higher education. 

At Bucknell, 53 faculty, staff, and students signed up for four different groups that will each meet five times this semester to consider the mission and value of civic engagement in higher education and how we at Bucknell are enacting or might better actualize our civic vision.  The smaller groups facilitate more personal conversations and accommodate our personal schedules.  We meet to discuss assigned readings about civic engagement and consider the articles' application to Bucknell.   Bucknell has been active in addressing issues surrounding campus climate, and The Civic Series is a unique approach to addressing concerns about intellectual engagement and responsible behavior.  The Civic Series will serve as a valuable tool for considering student engagement, exploring educational trends, and examining practices that promote responsible citizenship.  

I joined The Civic Series for a variety of reasons.  In high school, I had the opportunity to attend a national leadership conference in Denver, Colorado.  At this conference, I met a speaker whose message really impacted me.   He told various stories about individuals who made a difference to him and instances where he made a difference to others.  His simple message, "you can make a difference," supported by stories and experiences and messages was the foundation for my interest in civic engagement.  I pursued a job at the Office of Civic Engagement providing me with insight into Bucknell students' sincere interest in becoming more involved with off campus communities.  My experiences at Bucknell as well as the belief that "you can make a difference" are what drove me to participate in the reading and discussion series. 

Students at Bucknell want to engage with the various off campus communities.  The Office of Civic Engagement is an invaluable resource for students actively pursuing a way to get involved with the community.  Community service work-study employment, volunteer experiences, and academic service-learning opportunities are supported by the OCE.  Some students see the program as an add-on, and consider volunteering as nice to do if they can spare the time.  Others embrace multiple pathways - alternative break trips, work-study jobs, community service, or courses with a service component.

Some students are not aware of ways to connect, give back, or learn from community partners.  What happens to the students who genuinely want opportunities to get involved with the local community but are simply unaware, or overwhelmed with work and other responsibilities?  I hope that through our work with The Civic Series, we will be able to highlight the integration of civic engagement into the curriculum.   In this way, Bucknell can offer opportunities to students who are actively seeking this involvement and those with a significant amount of other commitments.  If this is successful, more students will be exposed to civic engagement through their coursework and experiences in the classroom, helping them understand how class material can be applied to address local needs or social problem-solving.

The Civic Series is an incredible initiative to integrate civic engagement into Bucknell's mission, and I have never been a part of a project like this.  Therefore, I hope to learn more about civic engagement and its place in higher education.  I hope to have meaningful conversations with individuals while transcending traditional faculty, staff, and student roles. Through these conversations, I hope to learn as much as possible about the overarching meaning of civic engagement as well as local and global initiatives. 

Thus far, The Civic Series has exceeded my expectations.  The individuals have proven to be very thoughtful with a passion to see civic engagement further integrated at Bucknell.  The conversations and readings have opened my eyes to factors I would not have realized on my own.  This collaborative environment and mission of The Civic Series is what makes it such a unique way to approach campus climate.  I hope that through The Civic Series, we will see increased student involvement in the community, a better understanding of civic engagement, and the continued trend of a more socially responsible student body.  Thank you for the opportunity to be involved in The Civic Series and thank you to Bucknell students for your sincere interest in increasing opportunities for civic engagement both locally and globally.



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