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“Where Do I Start?” If I Want To Engage in CLDE Work.

Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement New Professionals and Graduate Students Graduate New Professional
August 11, 2020 Mary Morrison Amanda McDole

For all professionals entering the field of civic learning and democratic engagement (CLDE), it can seem like a “where do I start moment?” Given our current landscape and economic reality, higher education is changing, along with many of our departments and institutions.  In collaboration with the New Professionals and Graduate Students KC, the Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement KC wanted to share a few insights and pieces of advice from two individuals in our field, one a seasoned professional and one a newer professional.  If you are actively looking for a new role or will be soon, we hope the insights below can assist in your preparation and training for what’s next. 

What experiences/knowledge/training are you looking for in a new professional entering the CLDE higher education field?

(MM) I think it is important to have some first-hand experience working in government and/or nonprofits either in a professional capacity or as a committed volunteer.  You need a solid grounding in student development theory.  Administrative and technology skills are essential since most offices doing this work don’t have a lot of staff and most people have to take on multiple roles. 

(AM) I believe what was most useful for me as a new professional entering the CLDE field was embracing the work each campus I worked at was doing. This provided me with the space to engage with new models, curriculum, professionals, and resources to grow and be challenged. Three years as a new professional and I am still energized by following professionals that focus on CLDE or discovering new podcasts that can help me understand how to continue to innovate and integrate these models. 

How has your work/the work of CLDE professionals changed because of COVID-19, so far?

(MM) We are working hard to come up with meaningful and mutually beneficial projects that can be completed remotely.  Working with community partners to make sure everyone is following safety protocols so that all people are protected.

(AM) My work has challenged me to become innovative and has given me the chance to pivot what some of our programming looks like at a virtual level and pushed me to reassess how accessible these new plans are for the students. Some of the biggest takeaways have included being flexible about what many of our CLDE programs will look like and evaluating how we best serve our community partners to help foster the work they are doing remotely.

What professional organizations are you part of/do you find to be great resources for CLDE professionals?

(MM) IRASCLE, NASPA Lead Initiative, North Carolina Campus CompactNational Campus Compact, NSEE

(AM) I have found some wonderful communities that connect me to intentional resources and other professionals in the field who are always willing to connect and collaborate: Campus Compact, American Association of Colleges and Universities, Break Away, AshokaU, and GivePulse. With all of these organizations, there are free resources and ones that can only be accessed through membership. As a result, sometimes I reach out to organizations directly to see what they offer new professionals in any stage of membership/non-membership. 

What advice would you give to someone looking to enter the CLDE higher education field?

(MM) I would definitely complete a Master’s Degree program and if you plan to advance your career in higher education, I would recommend a Ph.D. program.  Understanding community partnerships and community needs are essential.  Student mentoring and advising is a necessary skill.  Collaboration and relationship building across campus and particularly with faculty members builds a strong base of support and resources.  

(AM) Be open to learning and growing with the professionals and communities around you! Every year I reflect on my experiences and feel so grateful for the lessons learned and the individuals around me that made it possible. So don't be afraid to nourish relationships with your colleagues and mentors. That feedback and growth is invaluable within the CLDE field. There are also so many opportunities within all communities you may work with!  If you invest some of your time and effort to really understand them and build a relationship, you can gain so many new perspectives and knowledge to trickle down to work you do with students. Overall when it comes to CLDE, there has to be a priority on building strong campus-community relationships and educating ourselves as professionals on the best way to support the community to accomplish intentional work with our students in the field of higher education.


Mary Morrison, Elon University

Assistant Dean of Campus Life and Director of the Kernodle Center for Civic Life. Mary began her career with the Cooperative Extension Service and received her M.S. in Adult Education from North Carolina State University.

Amanda McDole, Florida International University 

Amanda currently serves as the Assistant Director for Changemaker initiatives at Florida International University (FIU. Amanda earned her Master’s in Student Affairs Administration in Higher Education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 2017.