Educating Engaged Citizens Across Campus Boundaries

East Carolina University

November 13, 2017

Recently, the newly established NASPA Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement Knowledge Community published (in the soon-to-be released annual KC publication) some writing on the intersectionality of civic engagement education with other functional areas within Student Affairs. There is a growing body of literature showing that CLDE efforts are changing and shaping the field of Student Affairs in new and exciting ways. These efforts cut across university divisions, units, disciplines, and functional areas because they are rooted in the deeply held civic commitments of our schools. Former AAC&U president Carol Geary Schneider suggests that “to repair democracy in the United States, educators will need to make equity-minded civic learning central rather than evanescent in any efforts to strengthen educational quality and support student success” (Schneider, 2017). In Learning Reconsidered (2004), Keeling reminds us that student learning should always be viewed in a larger context, so we develop habits of asking “what students know, who they are, what their values and behavior patterns are, and how they see themselves contributing to and participating in the world in which they live” (p. 9). We highlight some specific examples of how this intersectionality -- which defines the overall spirit of CLDE campus work -- takes shape on our campus:

Part of this intersectionality can be witnessed by the growing interest in strong partnerships between Student Affairs and Academic Affairs. These efforts are centered around specific programs, common goals, and shared institutional values. ECU’s Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement and Student Involvement and Leadership partner with Political Science faculty on a variety of activities related to leadership learning and civic education. We have developed a leadership development framework that helps to chart a path for students to develop and enhance their leadership skills through assessment, learning, and experiential opportunities. This framework helps emerging leaders transition into more advance practice leaders with significant experience.

For the coming year, ECU is offering its own version of a citizen academy -- also known as Citizen U. We will partner with Political Science, History, Business and Communication, as well as city government to facilitate this new program. The goal of this academy -- one that has curricular and co-curricular elements -- will be to educate students on the basic tenets of a functioning democracy and improve the overall civic health of our community. The academy will attempt to impact the growing problem of alienation and nonparticipation within our democracy. “According to the 2010 Civic Health Index, North Carolina ranks 42nd in the nation for volunteering, 44th for participation in non-electoral policy activity (such as public meetings), and 39th for group affiliation/membership. Too few of our citizens are willing to contribute their civic ideas, and those that do worry that their thoughts are not being heard or supported by people with the capacity to implement them” (NC State Institute for Emerging Issues). This academy will address the persistent problem of civic apathy and non-participation.

These civic learning outcomes stem from a newly developing tradition of events and programming -- initiated predominantly by ECU Student Affairs -- to engage students in conversations across difference. After a recent internal inventory of campus events related to civil dialogue, we realized that Student Affairs -- made possible through many cross-campus partnerships and collaborators -- offered more than 50 events related to citizenship, dialogue, conflict negotiation, social justice, and diversity and inclusion during the past academic year. Such events include Cupola Conversations, NC Civility Summit, Bring It to The Table film screening and live table talk event, Race in Our Space forums, LeaderShape Institute, and the Social Justice Symposium. Each of these events create space for deliberative dialogue to occur, allowing for the exchange of ideas and opinions. In many ways, learning outcomes related to inclusion and dialogue are embraced by Student Affairs units; working toward these outcomes has become part of the Student Affairs culture on our campus.

Lastly, our institution recently prioritized global learning as a key objective across the curriculum. Our strategic plan challenges our campus community to make global experiences more accessible for students, increasing the numbers of students participating from 12 percent to 25 percent over the next five years. As a result, we’ve provided some leadership with respect to both domestic and international service-learning (global service-learning pedagogy) and global learning assessment. This educational approach sits at the intersection of intercultural learning, experiential education, and civic engagement. Sumka, Porter, and Piacitelli (2015) note that “global learning denotes any learning that raises awareness of global connectedness, regardless of boundaries” (p. 301). With this approach in mind, we have offered some training opportunities for faculty to learn more about global service-learning as a teaching methodology. And, we have incorporated the Global Engagement Survey into our domestic and international immersion programming, the ECU Leads leadership certificate, and LeaderShape programs. Our approach to educating students on the value of global connectedness is directly connected to how we educate students to be engaged citizens.

Given recent trends in community participation, we must all be willing to act as collaborative civic educators. This approach not only allows us address issues holistically, but it also reinforces for our students that we learn best when connections across disciplines are made. Silos and compartmentalized approaches only serve to hinder our students. CLDE campus efforts can work against this trend and promote and celebrate intersections. As student affairs educators, we must continually work to cultivate and support the spirit of collaborative civic education.


  • Keeling, R. P. (Ed). (2004). Learning Reconsidered: A Campus-wide Focus on Student Experience. Washington, D.C.: American College Personnel Association and National Association of Student Personnel Administrators.
  • Schneider, C. G. (2017). The Equity-Minded Civic Learning All Americans Need. Retrieved from:
  • Sumka, S., Porter, M. C., & Piacitelli, J. (2015). Working side by side: Creating alternative breaks as catalysts for global learning, student leadership, and social change. Stylus Publishing, LLC.


  • Tara Kermiet, Associate Director, Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement, East Carolina University
  • Dennis McCunney, Director, Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement, East Carolina University
  • Nichelle Shuck, Associate Director, Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement, East Carolina University

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