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Reflections on Civic Action and Service-Learning and the New Age College Student

Civic Engagement LEAD Initiative
November 9, 2018 Rhonda K. Lewis Chelsea Redger-Marquardt

Rhonda Lewis:  As I reflect back on my career as a university professor the students have definitely changed. The students no longer understand the catch phrases I refer to when I say “I love it when a plan comes together” a popular phrase used by the 1980’s television series starring George Peppard called the “A Team.”  The college students at Wichita State University are a mix of transfer students, returning adults, first generation, and traditional students. I will refer too many of them as being Millennials or the new group Generation Z. I was born at the tail end of the Civil Rights Era during the age of Richard Nixon, Mr. Rogers, Sesame Street, and School House Rock.  I grew up when there were no cell phones, no computers, and no internet. Today’s college students have changed and I have changed since I first began teaching. The generations see the world through different lens. This brings us to Civic Action.

The capacity and commitment both to participate constructively with diverse others and to work collectively to address common problems; the practice of working in a pluralistic society and world to improve the quality of people’s lives and the sustainability of the planet; the ability to analyze systems in order to plan and engage in public action; the moral and political courage to take risks to achieve a greater public good.

In my Introduction to Community Psychology course I infuse a service-learning component into the course in essence civic action. I encourage the students to connect the principles they are learning in the class to service in the community. The students select a community agency where they participate in service that builds up the organization’s capacity to achieve the greater public good. Of course, sometimes the students go kicking and screaming into the night but at the end of the semester reveal in their reflections how much they enjoyed and learned from the experience.

In one of my classes I realized I was not connecting with this new group of students (the Millennials) I stopped class and we had a discussion about their values and what did they want in life. After our discussion, I learned the significance the 2008 recession had on their lives. They saw their parents lose their homes, jobs, stocks everything and they felt that they had been lied to about the importance of an education and they were living their lives very cautiously. They were negative, anxious, and angry individuals. However, they are also a generation that wants to give back. They want security but they are also social activists. I could connect with them on their passion for civic action and social justice. We found common ground. The two generations could work together although we were from two very different worldviews.

As we continue to work towards upholding all of the work that connects us civic ethos, civic literacy and skill building, civic inquiry, civic action and civic agency. It is important for us to meet our students where they are and to find common ground so that we can make change as we work toward civic action.

Chelsea Redger-Marquardt:  I think Dr. Lewis’ words and reflections are inspiring.  She is a fantastic educator that makes the extra effort and takes the tougher path when it better serves her students and our community.  We have worked as partners in service-learning at Wichita State University, moving our service-learning courses, programs, trainings forward.  Many times in our meetings we have reflected on the impact of the differences that our own personal experiences and frame of reference have caused.  I am an older member of the millennial generation and it has been our shared passion for service-learning leading to civic action and our dedication to the public good that has bridged a partnership and for me a mentorship in doing this work.  She tells me it will be my generation that makes the changes we need in areas of the CLDE Theory of Change.  I tell her that none of this would be possible without the work of trailblazers like herself.  We both agree that our students are passionate and hungry for this kind of learning.  That often times the topics that are explored through building civic literacy and civic inquiry our new to the students in both of our classes.  But with that newness and discovery there is a vibe of excitement and hope.  Our partnership is not unique, but the learning, reflecting, and support that the partnership provides is something that we think all professionals doing this very necessary but sometimes tough work should seek out.  It keeps you going.  So we pose the question, who do you have to professionally reflect with, share with, and connect with as we welcome a new generation on campus?


  • Chelsea Redger-Marquardt, Associate Director, Student Involvement, Wichita State University
  • Rhonda K. Lewis, Professor and Chair, Department of Psychology, Wichita State University