Excellence Socially Applied

Civic Minded Professionals

Higher education institutions are committed to graduating responsible citizens with meaningful careers. Students that are engaged and deeply embedded in community issues, with the appropriate combination of academic learning and problem-based mentoring in places of work, will develop the 21st century skills needed to be a successful graduate. Indeed, it is because of the significant overlap between the skills developed through high quality civic engagement and those required by 21st century workforce that we need to expand our issue-driven, academically connected, community engagement experiences. Students develop a deeper level of understanding of the significant role they can play in remediating or solving LOCAL issues and by working with employers, can put their name in the hat for future employment opportunities. New Jersey Campus Compact is seeking partners and systems to promote this work. 

Examples of evidence and promising practices  are included below.  In the Foreward of a recent report entitled ‘Civic Learning Developmental Pathways’  by Connecticut Campus Compact, the highly respected President of Fairfield University, Jeffrey von Arx, S.J., wrote:

As educators, we share a responsibility to engage students in learning for life. The decisions we make about how we create communities of learning greatly impact how students develop as informed and engaged citizens. This report …finds that civic engagement plays a key role in fostering the very skills, knowledge and values that enable students to be successful.

The report also highlighted the key role civic engagement plays in developing successful career skills:

Workforce and Civic Engagement SkillsWorkforce and Civic Engagement Skills* The asterisk was placed after skills listed in more than one research article.

These soft skills are transferrable because they are not rooted in a single academic discipline. Their adaptability to multiple arenas makes them quite suited to the current job market. The significant overlap points clearly to the need for issue-driven, academically connected, community engagement experiences. Students learn a deeper level of understanding of the significant role they can play in remediating or solving LOCAL issues, and, by working with employers, can put their name in the hat for future employment opportunities.

Good enough for GOOGLE… This was reflected in the recent Forbes article, citing the New York Times interview with Google’s Lazlo Bock, that raised the priority of strong character when hiring, referencing “leadership, personal and intellectual humility, the ability to attribute some purpose to your work, and the ability to take ownership of the task at hand. Bock mused that while you can train new employees for many technical abilities, a candidate without these personal characteristics was a non-starter.”

In 2003, William Sullivan wrote that civic professionals make a “public pledge to deploy technical expertise and judgment not only skillfully but also for public-regarding ends and in a public-regarding way”. This is the epitome of excellence socially applied and so it logically follows that, in order to educate the civic professional, higher education must endorse the philosophy that education for citizenship and for the economy are complimentary – an argument that was highlighted in the 2013 Eastern Region Campus Compact conference keynote address by Chancellor Pritchett.

Evidence In the Disciplines: Civic minded Professionalism in Undergraduate Engineering

As far back as 2004, Scott Peters of Syracuse University wrote an article on about Educating the Civic Professional. Peters echoes the importance of developing soft skills in students, referencing the fact that they are now mandated in the criteria for ABET accreditation  for undergraduate engineering. Peters wrote,

Such skills include the ability to work and learn collaboratively in teams and the ability to communicate technical concepts and knowledge to the public. Also included in accreditation criteria are a number of knowledge measures, such as an understanding and appreciation of diversity, an understanding and awareness of the social, economic, and environmental impact of engineering decisions, and an understanding of professional and ethical responsibility.

As a case in point, the EPICS program at Purdue University has strived for years to link learning and problem-based community engagement. Teams, made up of between 8 to 18 students includes freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors, design, build and deploy engineering-based solutions to community issues.  Mentors and advisors are assigned from Purdue AND for local industry. Students earn 1 or 2 academic credits each semester and may register for up to four years.

Projects may last several years, are credit-based, and are driven by utility and impact rather than the limited academic timeframe. Projects include

– developing apps for mobile devices, iPad, and Google Android that can benefit the community

– methods to reduce water consumption as a result of land use changes in the local and global communities

– creating interactive web-based data software solutions for local community agencies in order to expand their ability to meet local needs.

Impact on a large scale necessitates inclusivity

A report by CIRCLE entitled Pathways to Leadership: YouthBuild. pathways to leadership highlighted the potential for ALL members of communities to make meaningful contributions in their civic lives, and represents an important call for reflection on the field of civic engagement and how it must evolve to be much more inclusive and asset-driven in order to change the continued course of inequality and privilege.  The authors point out the startling fact:

American children in the top quarter of the income distribution have an 80% chance of attending college while they are young adults, whereas young Americans whose families are in the bottom quarter of the income distribution have just a 19% chance of entering College”.

Essentially, YouthBuild as a national network deeply believes in the profound potential of individuals, even (and perhaps especially) those who face very difficult circumstances, including dropping out from school. The objective is to guide all youth to become local civic leaders. 270 organizations nationally enroll 10,000 highly disadvantaged young people annually, and provides a combination of:Skill-building, counseling, leadership development, community service, positive values and relationships, high standards of behavior, clear pathways to a productive future

According to the report:

78% percent of the entering students complete YouthBuild, and of those, 63% obtained a high school diploma or equivalent by the time they graduate from the program and 60% are placed in jobs or pursue further education … 75% percent of respondents up to seven years after graduation are “successful,” meaning that they are working at a job with an average wage, are in school, or are participating in some sort of job training.”

Civic Leadership Among YouthBuild Graduates


◊  As the description of EPICS above outlines, the development of civic minded professionals requires an unshakable philosophy that community partners are equal contributors to knowledge-making as both teachers and learners. To prepare the civic minded professional, Peters wrote:

(Shared expertise has) a direct bearing on the nature and process of democratic citizenship, which come into play when academic professionals enter the public realm and engage with their fellow citizens in public work. Such dimensions enable scholars to link the work of scholarship—teaching and research—to the public work of democracy—the articulation, deliberation, and negotiation of public interests, ideals, problems, and issues and the development and exercise of knowledge and power in addressing them.”

Promising Practices for Developing the Civic Minded Professional:

  • Inclusivity of opportunities
    ο Bringing initiatives to scale necessitates access to opportunity, but also,  democracy depends on inclusion and diversity in order to survive
  • Student preparedness (through training)
    ο Educational and experiential humility / leadership as a product of experience rather than as the result of a decision / teamwork as MUCH more than working in groups / formative rather than summative guidance/
  • Service learning linking discipline-specific expertise with real-time community challenge
  • Sharing expertise with community partners in professionalizing students
  •  Institutionalizing cohort models (for example as found in Portland State University’s capstone projects)
  • Sustained commitments to community partners and to impact (for example as found in Purdue’s EPICS program)




  • Bailey, M. J., & Dynarski, S. M. (2011). Inequality in postsecondary education. In G. J. Duncan, & R. J. Murnane (Eds.), Whither opportunity? rising inequality, schools, and children’s life chances (pp. 117-131). New York: Russell Sage.
  • Baker, Kerrie Q., Kim Edward Spiezio, and Kathleen Boland. “Student Engagement: Transference of Attitudes and Skills to the Workplace, Profession, and Community.” The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist 42.2 Oct. (2004): 101-07. Print.
  • The Center for Information Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. Pathways to leadership: A study of YouthBuild graduates. Boston:MA. Retrieved April 20, 2014, from https://youthbuild.org/news/youthbuild-creates-opportunity-youth-leaders-communities
  • Connecticut Campus Compact Student Advisory Council. Civic Learning Developmental Pathway: Envisioning a Framework for the Engaged Citizen. Fairfield, CT: Connecticut Campus Compact, 2012. http://blog.fairfield.edu/campuscompact/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Civic-Learning-Dev-book-for-web.pdf
  • Forbes (2014). Two sides of the same coin. Retrieved April 2, 2014, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/ashoka/2014/03/04/two-sides-of-the-same-coin-the-employment-crisis-and-the-education-crisis/
  • Hart Research Associates  (2010). “Raising the Bar: Employers’ Views on College Learning In the Wake of the Economic Downturn. 1-9.
  • Ouimet, Judith A., and Gary R. Pike. “Rising to the Challenge: Developing a Survey of Workplace Skills, Civic Engagement, and Global Awareness.” Directions for Institutional Research (2007): 71-82. Print.
  • Peters, J. S., (2004). Educating the civic professional. Michigan Journal of Community Service-Learning, Vol. 11(1), 47-58.
  • Portland State University. Capstone Projects. Retrieved April 2, 2014, from http://www.pdx.edu/unst/senior-capstone
  • Purdue University. EPICS Program. Retrieved April 2, 2014, from https://engineering.purdue.edu/EPICS/About
  • Sullivan, W. M. (2003). Engaging the civic option: A new academic professionalism? Campus Compact Reader, Summer 2003, pp. 10-17.
  • Tsang, E. (Ed.) (2000). Projects that Matter: Concepts and models for service-learning in engineering. Washington, D.C.: AAHE.

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