Defining the Civic Ethos of our Campus:  A Lasting Impact of Alternate Spring Break Experiences


Author
Vivian Lanzot, Director Civic Engagement, Career Development Services, New Jersey Institute of Technology

Published
February 22, 2019


 “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 ” is definitive of one of the capacities of the CLDE Theory of Change “civic action".  New Jersey Institute of Technology infuses this commitment and leverages capacity via its civic engagement activities.

In 2012, over 346,000 homes in New Jersey were damaged or destroyed by Superstorm Sandy which devastated the entire State leaving a trail of impact to its residents from the Jersey Shore to Newark, the state’s largest city.  It was documented as the fourth worst major storm in the US. The Alternate Spring Break program at NJIT was created to assist communities in their post–hurricane recovery efforts and for students, faculty, and service-learning professionals, working with communities required us to look beyond familiar and safe academic roles.  With over 567 college volunteers participating, students from NJIT and 23 other colleges as well as faculty, staff and alumni helped eradicate some of the devastation from Superstorm Sandy.  During the height of this superstorm, NJIT had students serve as emergency management interns to ensure that the Newark’s area’s neediest residents were being helped.  Many volunteers registered to participate in beach sweeps and park cleanups, deconstructing homes or finishing work (painting or simple carpentry) and surveying communities.    The volunteer efforts took our students to the Surflight Theater in Beach Haven, NJ to help reconstruct the 60 year old theater which eventually closed.  Coordinating efforts involved 22 local organizations and the American Red Cross, Jersey Cares, Clean Ocean Action, and NJ Salvation Army, NJIT helped (re)build New Jersey Strong. 

Seven years later, NJIT students, faculty and staff continue to invest in the rebuilding of the State of NJ post Superstorm Sandy.  In the upcoming 2019 Alternate Spring Break we will continue our partnership with the St. Bernard’s Project or SBP who serve low - to moderate-income residents with a special focus on families with small children, the elderly, disabled persons, veterans and families who are underinsured or uninsured with rebuilding projects.

“The best civic learning and democratic engagement efforts are likely to be integral, relational, organic, and generative (Hoffman D., Describing Transformative Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement Practices)”.  When higher education institutions invest in the betterment of their immediate environments it is good for both the community and the institution. NJIT’s presence in Newark and the State of NJ embraces its status as an anchor institution meeting the need for more intentional relationship building with community partners and by dedicating its resources and energy to programmatic efforts that benefit communities in many areas.  For example, the establishment of the Center for Resilient Design, an architectural think tank dedicated to the rebuilding of storm-afflicted areas in sustainable ways that can withstand future natural disasters.   Inclusively, climate change has also become an important aspect of research conducted by NJIT faculty in departments that include Chemistry and Environmental Science and Civil and Environmental Engineering.  The future relies on our ability to enhance the civic inquiry of students to have a lasting impact on community. NJIT celebrates the critical role that higher education plays in strengthening communities and building on the CLDE theory of change.  NJIT civic engagement programs advance civic learning and democratic engagement by cultivating our campus environment and individual and collective capacities. 


References:

  • Hoffman, D. (2015). Describing transformative civic learning and democratic engagement practices [Blog]. American Democracy Project. Retrieved from https://adpaascu.wordpress.com/2015/07/01/describing-transformative-civic-learning-and-democratic-engagement-practices/
  • Hoffman, D., Domagal-Goldman, J., King, S., & Robinson, V. (2018). Higher education’s role in enacting a thriving democracy: Civic learning and democratic engagement theory of change. Washington: NASPA

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