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St. Olaf aims to increase civic engagement with faculty institute

By Kari VanDerVeen
June 19, 2008

As a group of St. Olaf College faculty members offered a helping hand recently at two nonprofit organizations in Minneapolis, they were asked to put themselves in the shoes of their students. What type of support and guidance would St. Olaf students need if they were volunteering for these organizations as part of a civic engagement project required for one of their classes?

Civic Engagement Workshop
St. Olaf faculty members (from left) Karen Gervais, Mary Carlsen, Dana Gross, Kathy Tegtmeyer Pak and Dan Hofrenning take a tour of the Northfield Historical Society as part of the Civic Engagement Summer Institute.
The thought-provoking exercise was just one element of a four-day workshop that nine St. Olaf faculty members participated in earlier this month to learn, think and talk about enhancing their courses with civic engagement components. The 2008 Civic Engagement Institute gave professors the opportunity to work with community organizations to explore ways of integrating community-based learning projects into their courses. St. Olaf is working to increase opportunities for academic civic engagement, which refers to course-based learning activities that also address needs in the community. Such activities could include having a student serve as a patient advocate for a community clinic or perform research that enables a local organization to improve its services.

A renewed commitment to civic engagement
The workshop included discussions with leaders of local organizations and hands-on sessions, as well as site visits to organizations in the Northfield area and the Twin Cities. Each faculty member will integrate civic engagement opportunities into at least one course during the upcoming academic year and will discuss their progress with its implementation during monthly meetings that will be held throughout the year.

"I believe that faculty participants came away from the institute with renewed commitment to integrating academic civic engagement into their courses," says St. Olaf Assistant Director of Civic Engagement Nate Jacobi, who works in the college's Center for Experiential Learning and was the project director for the Civic Engagement Institute. "My hope is that the faculty will build upon the knowledge and partnerships that they gained during the institute by utilizing teaching strategies that empower students to learn with and in our local community."

Civic Engagement Workshop 4
St. Olaf faculty member Kathy Tegtmeyer Pak (right) talks with Janet Lewis Muth, project coordinator for Rice County Growing Up Healthy, during the Civic Engagement Institute.
Faculty members participating in the Civic Engagement Institute come from a diverse range of disciplines. They include Professor of Social Work and Department Chair Mary Carlsen '79; Associate Professor of Anthropology Chris Chiappari; Assistant Professor of History Eric Fure-Slocum '79; Visiting Professor of Philosophy Karen Gervais; Professor of Psychology and Department Chair Dana Gross; Associate Professor of Political Science Dan Hofrenning; Associate Professor of Social Work Naurine Lennox '64; Associate Professor of Statistics Paul Roback '89; and Assistant Professor of Political Science Kathy Tegtmeyer Pak. Fure-Slocum, a Lilly Fellow in the Center for Experiential Learning, helped coordinate and administer the program, and Paul Schadewald from Macalester College's Civic Engagement Center helped facilitate the institute.

Working with local leaders
One of the primary goals of the workshop was to strengthen partnerships between St. Olaf faculty and local organizations. Leaders from community organizations that have worked with St. Olaf students or would like to develop a stronger collaboration with the college participated in the workshop and shared their perspective with faculty members. The Northfield Community Action Center, HealthFinders Collaborative and the Northfield Healthy Community Initiative played a leadership role in helping plan the Civic Engagement Institute. Other community organizations that participated in the workshop include the Cannon River Watershed Partnership, Rice County Growing Up Healthy, Three Rivers Community Action, Centro Campesino and Wellstone Action. Organizers of the Civic Engagement Institute hope that faculty members provide opportunities for students to contribute to the local community through service-learning, community-based research or by producing scholarship for public audiences.

"The faculty participants and community partners had many opportunities to work together and to plan civic engagement projects that would mutually benefit students and their respective organizations," Jacobi says. "The community partners provided valuable information about the assets and needs of people in Northfield and the surrounding region."

Civic Engagement Workshop 3
St. Olaf Assistant Professor of History Eric Fure-Slocum '79, who helped coordinate the workshop, talks to a group of faculty members as they take a tour of Northfield during the Civic Engagement Institute.
In addition to holding the workshop and offering monthly follow-up meetings, the Center for Experiential Learning will provide faculty members with ongoing assistance in the form of consultation, coordination, transportation, reflection and evaluation in managing community projects. Faculty members, community partners and students will be asked to share their experiences with civic engagement publicly with the goal of attracting additional participants.

Support for the Civic Engagement Institute is provided by the Post-Secondary Service Learning and Campus Community Collaboration Grant Program, which is funded by the State of Minnesota and coordinated by the Minnesota Campus Compact and the Minnesota Office of Higher Education.

Contact Kari VanDerVeen at 507-786-3970 or