By: RANDALL MOSSMAN
Students and faculty that actively engage in service learning, volunteering and other interactions with their community are seen as leading examples for the university they represent. IU South Bend is now hoping to parlay these efforts into receiving a prestigious accreditation.
IUSB is attempting to receive the Community Engagement Classification from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
The Carnegie Foundation describes community engagement as, “collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities (local, regional/state, national, global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity.”
Dr. Gail McGuire, a professor of sociology at IUSB, is head of the 13-person task force put together to help IUSB work toward receiving this accreditation.
“It’s a mark of distinction that basically says a university has reached an extraordinary level of community engagement,” McGuire said.
The accreditation is given out every five years. After the recipients were announced in 2015, a total of 361 universities across the country now have the classification. Though the new recipients won’t be announced until 2020, IUSB has to start working right away if they hope to receive the accreditation.
The 16 page long application that universities must submit is long and arduous, and that fact is not lost on McGuire, who said the application process will be “gruelling and incredibly detailed.”
McGuire said one of the biggest challenges in completing the application is that they have to find out very detailed information about the current level of community engagement at IUSB.
“We have to produce evidence in this application that [community engagement] is part of our mission, part of our curriculum,” McGuire said.
McGuire said they also need to find out how many students are currently involved with the community, how many hours they spend in community service and what volunteer work student clubs are doing, among many other things.
While getting the classification would be nice, McGuire said that the entire process of attempting to earn it is what will lead to the most progress at IUSB.
“It’s important not so much for the outcome. It’s more of a means to an end rather than an end itself,” McGuire said. “The classification would be nice, but it’s not an end point.”
McGuire compared the process to preparing for a race. She said that the build-up and preparation for a race is when you learn the most about yourself and grow. McGuire said that the process of applying for the classification will help the campus’ community engagement efforts grow, as well as to learn their strengths and build on them.
During the process, McGuire is hopeful that improvements will be made to aid further community engagement here at IUSB. She hopes that service learning and community engagement requirements will be put into the general education curriculum.
McGuire said that community engagement helps with retention and graduation rates, as well as getting students first-hand experience of what they’re learning about.
“It helps them to apply what they’re learning in the classroom to a real world setting,” she said.
McGuire also hopes to see additional steps taken to further enhance the community engagement at IUSB. She wants to see things like a reward system for students and faculty who engage in community engagement, as well as a community partner directory, where all of IUSB’s community partners are listed in one place, so it is easier for students who want to help to be able to find a starting point.
While the campus is still years away from seeing all the hard work pay off, McGuire is thankful for the hard work and dedication that faculty members have put in to make community engagement possible.
McGuire said that faculty devote a “tremendous amount of hours” to helping students and other faculty be successful in their service to the community.
“They value [community engagement],” McGuire said. “They see how students are transformed by it.”