The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching defines community engagement as “the collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities (local, regional/state, national, global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity.” The mission and core values of Mercyhurst University build upon a rich history of learning and serving “beyond the gates” of the institution. In an effort to be an excellent steward of institutional resources and understand the plethora of ways the institution engages with the community while providing direct assistance to faculty members – who prepare hands-on learning opportunities for students – with various approaches to their own scholarly engagement with the community, a Community Engagement department is a resource and conduit for the university community in this way. The Executive Director reports to the VP for Mission and works with many other individuals, offices, and community partners in order to support students’ community engagement activities at the university.
Service-Learning is a major element of Community Engagement. It is both a teaching and learning strategy where meaningful community service is integrated with instruction and reflection to enrich the classroom learning experience. This type of experiential learning teaches civic responsibility and strengthens communities. At Mercyhurst University, there are a variety of courses, highlighted by the 1-credit BTG course requirement, which utilize service-learning for pedagogical and mission-related purposes. Some students participate in project-based service-learning where others complete a minimum number of hours of service through a non-profit community-based agency. In both cases, the course instructor incorporates the service experience into the class through reflection techniques, discussion, or research papers. The Associate Director facilitates service-learning programming and related community placements for students with support from the Executive Director.
Community Engagement in the Student Union is the primary physical location on campus for students to seek out service opportunities. In collaboration with Campus Ministry, students are afforded opportunities to participate in and even co-coordinate local and national service trips – ranging from overnight immersions to week-long alternative break trips – that create co-curricular service and learning opportunities.
The department annually hosts or co-hosts a national service staff member (Lake Effect Leader AmeriCorps*VISTA) who helps to coordinate special campus and community-based service projects and programming. The department also coordinates the off-campus community service federal work study program.