Our overnight orientation program helps to introduce the civic ethos of the institution to incoming students by providing the ingredients necessary to further develop their civic life. It is vitally important for students to realize they have the power to move beyond altruism by exploring the ways their participation creates ripples of transformation. As a small institution, Wilkes University prides itself on being active in supporting the community wherein the university resides; for instance, university community members have completed over 2,500 community service hours during the summer 2018 orientation sessions.
But it is more than just hours. The civic investment that Wilkes implores leaves a legacy of care and commitment to our neighbors. As Colonels, our students are instructed on how to not only get the task at hand done, but also how to do it well. From the outset of the day, students are encouraged by their mentors and leaders to reflect on the type of legacy they want to leave behind.
One of the most enduring and influential partnerships is with the City of Wilkes-Barre’s Operations Office where students were able to work alongside the City’s foreman to get a better understanding of the layout of the city streets surrounding campus. These students work side-by-side with city workers to clean out catch basins along the city streets. During heavy rains the streets surrounding our campus flood. Being just feet from the Susquehanna River, the ability to drain the streets properly and ecologically is a very big deal. And let’s not forget about the ‘thank you’ cookies. There is a lot of power in those cookies. This mutually beneficial project, while seemingly simple, takes into account union workers time and expertise and our ability to transcend assumptions of students and city employees to get something important accomplished all held together by chocolate chips and sugary goodness.
It takes a special kind of skill set to work with students outside the institutional framework and to bridge the gap of town and gown relationships. This process brought us full circle with the notions of tempered radicals who use social entrepreneurship to break down barriers, to flex specialized leadership, and to indoctrinate students to the Wilkes way of being.
Tempered Radicals, describe those professionals who maintain multiple, sometimes conflicting, commitments to their constituents and to social justice ideals (Dostilio, 2017, p. 16). These radicals are adept at holding conflict in one hand and leveraging relationships, priorities, and resources in the other. The one-day service during orientation is one such example. One-day events may not be as axis shifting as other high impact practices, but that does not mean they are not without merit.
Additionally, engagement professionals are keen social entrepreneurs who dream of solutions to oppressive social problems. “Social entrepreneurship as an approach for managing innovation, connecting with social challenges, and disrupting the status quo is not intended to be framed as a panacea “ (Dostilio, 2017, p. 18), rather it is a way in which engagement professionals can gently nudge the civic agenda. Each recipe for success must start with the raw ingredients. While a four hour experience for first-year students may not seem like civic learning in action, and yet, it is by meeting students where they are. It gathers all the ingredients necessary for long-term deep commitments by building, incrementally, the recipe of involvement during their college years.
During his speech to the first-year class, the student civic engagement coordinator reflected, “Ultimately you are all in college to get your degrees, potentially go on to professional schools, and then ultimately lead successful and lucrative lives. This is something that Wilkes can easily do for you. However, Wilkes can only help to make your living. They can’t help you make your life. That is on you. Think about the life you want to live, about the service you want to offer, and about what you want to give to the world. You have the power to make change, you have the power to make a difference, and you have the power to empower. Today can be the start of the journey to shape what you want your life to be, not just your living.” It is our hope that by introducing students to the civic ethos of our institution they will ultimately gather all the ingredients necessary to create those productive lives.
Dostilio, L. D. (Ed.). (2017). The community engagement professional in higher education: A competency model for an emerging field. Boston, MA: Campus Compact.
Megan Boone Valkenburg M.S.; Civic Engagement Coordinator, Wilkes University
Harrison Eckert; Student Orientation Civic Engagement Coordinator. Class of 2019 (BS in Biology and BA in Spanish), Wilkes University