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Civic Engagement and Community Service at Research Universities: Engaging Undergraduates for Social Justice, Social Change and Responsible Citizenship.

Civic Engagement and Community Service at Research Universities: Engaging Undergraduates for Social Justice, Social Change and Responsible Citizenship

Edited by Krista M. Soria and Tania D. Mitchell

Palgrave Studies in Global Citizenship Education and Democracy

Palgrave Macmillan UK, London, 2016. xviii + 269 pages.

Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-137-55311-9

eBook ISBN: 978-1-137-55312-6

Krista M. Soria and Tania D. Mitchell have brought together 14 essays that argue for civic activity as an integral part of undergraduate education. The three sections of Civic Engagement and Community Service at Research Universities: Engaging Undergraduates for Social Justice, Social Change and Responsible Citizenship support the value and efficacy of an applied civics approach for undergraduates at research universities. The first section delineates those institutional conditions that affect the civics learning and behavior of undergraduates. The second section presents research focused on student participation in community service, including organizational involvement, individual volunteerism, and service learning. Also specified are the various outcomes for student learning, personal growth and maturation, and development into active citizens. The final section examines community service and its role in actual social change and students' understanding and commitment to social justice.

Soria, Mitchell, and June Nobbe address the history of U.S. civic education, including the development of land-grant universities and the influence of John Dewey's commitment to civic engagement. In "Developing Undergraduates' Civic Capabilities," they write, "In their critical roles as 'agents of democracy,' colleges and universities across the USA are charged with preparing their graduates to be active, effective citizens who can consciously contribute to the nation's dynamic democracy (1). Brandon W. Kliewer and Kerry L. Priest reinforce this idea by emphasizing the development of students' leadership abilities. In "Creating the Conditions for Political Engagement: A Narrative Approach for Community-Engaged Scholarship and Civic Leadership Development," they point to recent research affirming that "[t]he challenges facing our world require a new kind of leadership and commitment to participation in civic life (47).

In her essay "Civic and Community Engagement Impact on Economically Disadvantaged Students," Victoria Porterfield writes, "Ultimately, the lack of emphasis on civic education from a college or university could have harmful effects on students, and also the nation at large" (68). Therefore, "the quality of classroom activities is essential to enhance civic engagement among undergraduate students" (79). The entire volume underscores the importance of institutional commitments to an applied civics education for student and community well-being. In "Community Service and Service-Learning," Jeremy L. Williams, Soria, and Claire Erickson note the positive effects from service incorporated into curricula: "Students who participated in service-learning reported higher gains in outcomes associated with liberal arts education, including critical thinking, moral reasoning, inclination to inquire and learn lifelong, intercultural effectiveness, psychological well-being, and political and social involvement" (85).

Noting "the long-held belief that the primary societal benefit of higher education is to cultivate an informed and engaged citizenry" (101), Luis Ponjuan, Cynthia M. Alcantar, and Soria, along with the other contributors, assert that college graduates who combine academic disciplinary learning and other skills become engaged citizens. In their research regarding "Civic Attitudes and the Undergraduate Experience," Gary R. Kirk and Jacob Grohs note that "in the highly political and competitive, limited resource environment faced by most higher education institutions, prioritizing economic goals often leads to deprioritizing civic goals" (127)--although graduates "with the critical thinking and collaboration skills necessary for meaningful engagement in community" are crucial to resolve "complex problems and deteriorating political dialogue" (127). Additional research in the book supports this finding. In "Pluralistic Outcomes Associated with Undergraduates' Citizenship Development," Soria, Matthew Johnson, and Mitchell affirm, "One of the most challenging and yet imperative goals of higher education is to prepare undergraduates to face future leadership challenges and address the most pressing societal demands of the twenty-first century" (165).

The contributors provide extensive data supporting the benefits of institutionally supported service-learning programs. Douglas Barrera, Keali'i Troy Kukahiko, Lauren N. Willner, and Kathy O'Byrne write, "by investing in civic engagement programs," schools can "provide an ideal opportunity for students to acquire cognitive and affective learning about diversity in diverse environments" (205). Notwithstanding the growth of Campus Compact and the growing number of schools with the Carnegie Community Engagement classification, Walter F. Heinecke, Rose Cole, Ibby Han, and Nqobile Mthethwa document that civic engagement has "made little progress at penetrating the core teaching, learning, and research processes in higher education" and "that the civic engagement movement itself is marginal, stalled, or adrift" (220). The value in educating students to become informed and engaged citizens is clear, but institutional support is required for civics programming that can produce informed and engaged servant-leaders.


Susan Berry Brill de Ramirez, Bradley University,
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Author:de Ramirez, Susan Berry Brill
Publication:Council on Undergraduate Research Quarterly
Date:Mar 22, 2017
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