Opening A Center Leads To An Enhanced Relationship

Harriett Steinbach, Assistant Director, Illinois State University

June 15, 2018

Illinois State University’s Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning (CESL) just finished its first school year in operation.  Well, it is not as concise as that.  Our director has been planning for the department since 2015.  The assistant director for Assessment, Data Management, and Grant Writing started in December 2016, which was also the same month our physical space was available.  The office/budget manager began in April 2017.  Those of us reorganized from the Dean of Students Office moved in June 2017.  It was more of a rolling start, but the 2017 – 2018 school year marked our first official year as a department.  The Center was formally recognized and introduced to our campus and community in September 2017 with a ribbon cutting.

Partnerships on and off-campus are a key part of our success this year and will continue to be integral to our future.  We wrote in our Civic Action Plan that we will build relationships with both of the institutions of higher education in our community.

One notable and surprising, well maybe surprising is not the word….one partnership we are grateful has evolved in an unexpected way this year is our relationship with Illinois Wesleyan University (IWU).  IWU is 10 minutes down the road from our campus.  Illinois State University (ISU) is a mid-size public institution whereas IWU is a small, private, liberal arts college.  Despite being very different, the two institutions have always had a positive relationship.  Though, we did not anticipate how much we would end up working with the IWU Action Research Center (essentially our civic engagement counterpart) this year, but we are very proud of what did happen.

  • Action Research Center (ARC) staff attended a daylong workshop CESL coordinated where Dr. Barbara Jacoby presented Creating Healthy Campus-Community Partnerships to faculty and community organizations.
  • CESL held a staff meeting at the West Bloomington Revitalization Project (WBRP) to learn about ARC and WBRP.  WBRP is a neighborhood based community initiative that IWU works with significantly.
  • Both ARC and CESL staff are meeting with community organizations.  We discussed doing joint meetings when possible to lessen the burden on our community partners.  To that end, we met with Project Oz together in the winter.
  • IWU hosts a quarterly meeting of nonprofit organizations.  Rather than CESL coordinating a separate gathering to report on a study we conducted in the fall of community organizations and our subsequent action items, CESL was the featured speaker at the already scheduled meeting. 
  • ISU has offered a four-day workshop series for faculty interested in redesigning an existing course for civic engagement for several years.  This year we had six ISU faculty participate and also four IWU faculty.  This includes a daylong community bus tour and lunchtime conversation with about 15 community organizations.

The underlying value of all this partnership is that we share the same community and utilize the same community partners.  So, let’s save time for those organizations when we can and communicate regularly so neither institution is causing an undue burden.  This also maximizes the positive impact both institutions can have in the community.

The great thing about having a Center is that there is a system and dedicated staff to support civic learning.  I am confident that even if staff changed, we have put structures in place to maintain the relationship and regular communication with IWU and together further our work in our commu

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