Social Connectedness

Graduating With a Career in the Community

The ‘space’ in which accumulated experiences take place become deeply connected to student learning and faculty teaching, research and service. The places identified as the primary locations for institutional engagement, coalitions, and partnerships, inevitably become the geographical boundaries where students and faculty network with communities. Through education and experience, these locations forge commitments and lasting relationships that inform students’ decision-making upon graduation. The outcomes for both alumni and for institutions’ neighbors are positive and lasting, not least, because of early career networking and market niche identification resulting from lasting engagement initiatives.

 

The civic engagement movement is not alone in recognizing this fact. Indeed, the lines are blurring between civic engagement, social innovation, social enterprise, social entrepreneurship and even workforce development. New Jersey Campus Compact is finding new and expanded ways of working with institutions of higher education and the various employment sectors to build career pathways proactively and with reciprocal benefit. In the Program Brief for the 2013 Presidents’ Summit convened by Connecticut Campus Compact,  the facilitators, Peter Levine and Kei Ginsberg of CIRCLE, hypothesized about how place-based connections and commitments are formed and sustained:

 

In the Program Brief for the 2013 Presidents’ Summit-Leadership-Summit convened by Connecticut Campus Compact,  the facilitators, Peter Levine and Kei Ginsberg of CIRCLE, hypothesized about how place-based connections and commitments are formed and sustained:

“(C)ommunities in which residents report a strong sense of social cohesion, trust, and pride for each other and the town, are more resilient to the negative effects of a recession, Communities with more “civic health” lose fewer jobs than otherwise similar communities with weaker civil societies… By engaging in civil society, citizens obtain marketable skills and network contacts and increase the likelihood of employment; civic engagement may nurture a sense of community pride, which causes people to invest locally; and a strong civic infrastructure may make local governments more responsive to the citizens’ collective needs and improve their perfor­mance, cutting waste and corruption.”

 

The places identified as the primary locations for institutional engagement, coalitions, and partnerships, inevitably become the geographical boundaries where students and faculty network with communities. Through education and experience, these locations forge commitments and lasting relationships that inform students’ decision-making upon graduation. The outcomes for both alumni and for institutions’ neighbors are positive and lasting, not least, because of early career networking and market niche identification resulting from lasting engagement initiatives.

Blurring the Lines

Civic engagement, social innovation, social enterprise, social entrepreneurship and workforce development fields have quite a lot in common, not least the shared belief in the importance of place and the need for flexible, transferable contemporary career skills.

 

In each case, a deep connection if forged between a college education and the communities in which experience is gained. As stated by the highly influential report by Battastoni and Longo:

Building a commitment and understanding of place, the local economy, the local culture, and local politics is essential for developing civic and corporate responsibility—and this can be learned through community engagement. (These experiences take) learning outside the classroom and into the community—giving students the opportunity to learn about the broader community through service and public problem-solving. Service-learning, in short, gives students a new sense of place.

 

 In a recent report by Connecticut Campus Compact, the key role civic engagement plays in developing successful career skills was highlighted:

Workforce and Civic Engagement Skills

 

These soft skills are transferable because they are not rooted in a single academic discipline. Their adaptability to multiple arenas makes them quite suited to the current job market. 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.”

Examples in Blurring the Lines

Becoming a Skilled Change-Maker: Social Innovation at the New School

Becoming a Skilled Change-Maker: Social Innovation at the New School

The New School’s Social Innovation Iniatiative , defines social innovation as “a field of theory and practice designed to enhance the capacity of individuals, communities, and organizations to devise effective, just, and sustainable solutions to social and environmental problems.”

 

During the New School’s Social Innovation Speaker Series, Dr. Kahane, Professor of Professional Practice, gave a speech in which she said:

“We want to see more interdisciplinary learning and research that contributes to read-world problem-solving and prepares students to become skilled change-makers equipped to address contemporary social and environmental problems”.

 

By blurring the lines between civic engagement and social innovation, the New School for Public Engagement, breaks down redundant categorization:
In an age of increasing disciplinary overspecialization and academic insularity, we aim to reconnect higher education with the larger society. The purpose of this commitment is not only to enact change in the world, but also to challenge the conventions of learning and citizenship and reunite the culture of scholarship with the culture of change-making.

Creating Economic and Social Value: The NJ Social Innovation Institute

Creating Economic and Social Value: The NJ Social Innovation Institute

The Social Innovation Institute (NJSII) at Rutgers is a training program for social innovators and enterprising non-profit organizations developing business plans and investment proposals for new social businesses enterprises. The NJSII defines social entrepreneurship as “a form of entrepreneurship that integrates social goals and social or environmental problem  solving into its core business model. Using this unique model simultaneously creates economic and social value in the community.

Marrying Learning and Engagement: Purdue’s EPICS Program

Marrying Learning and Engagement: Purdue’s EPICS Program

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

 

Resources

Resources

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