5 Takeaways from the Engaged Department Workshop

November 30, 2015
Vector Graphics
Vector Graphics

MNCC thanks the University of Minnesota Office for Public Engagement and the Gustavus Adolphus College Center for Community-Based Service and Learning for co-sponsoring the Engaged Department Workshop on October 23, 2015. Here are a few key ideas and resources gleaned from that gathering:

1. The Case for Engaged Departments

In his presentation, Andy Furco, the University of Minnesota’s Associate Vice President for Public Engagement, made the case for developing engaged departments—starting with the fact that faculty tend to identify with their discipline (as much as, if not more than, their institution), and students as well as faculty are members of departments. Many departments have engagement already happening within them through particular classes, individuals’ research, etc.; what distinguishes an engaged department is ongoing, intentional integration of engagement in the department’s culture, policies, and practices.

2. The Value of Sharing

Gustavus Adolphus College’s Center for Community-Based Service and Learning drew on the University of Minnesota’s engaged department program materials when developing their new engaged department initiative, which replaces its support in previous years for individual faculty fellows. Interest proved high on campus, and the three selected teams appreciated the opportunity to talk and think with faculty from other institutions. Others are also welcome to adapt the program’s call for proposals and departmental planning document.  The California State University Center for Community Engagement also provides relevant resources here.

3. Civic Engagement as a Strategy

While this idea certainly isn’t limited to engaged departments, it emerged as a central theme during the workshop: civic or community engagement isn’t simply an end in itself, but a means of accomplishing important goals—academic teaching and/or scholarship goals, as well as community goals. Getting clear about your goals will help you develop the partnerships and types of engagement most likely to advance them.

4. Look for Small Wins

Faculty may want to start building on existing efforts by documenting what is already happening within their department and developing a department-specific definition of engagement. This process may surface unexpected allies and deepen a shared understanding of engagement, which will help lay the groundwork for bigger steps such as adding language about engagement to hiring and review protocols. All faculty need not be engaged themselves for a department to move both students and faculty toward deeper forms of engagement.

5. Ask Experienced Colleagues

Workshop participants appreciated the opportunity to hear from leaders of three (among 30+) departments that launched engaged department work with support from the University of Minnesota’s Office for Public Engagement. Engaged faculty and staff usually respond positively to requests to share their experiences and reflections, so even outside of workshops, don’t hesitate to ask for a little time to talk. If you’re wondering who might have insights to share, the Minnesota Campus Compact staff would be happy to connect you with colleagues across the state or beyond—and if you have civic engagement staff on your campus, they will be good resources who can connect you to others too.

by Julie Plaut, MNCC