With higher education increasingly viewed as the runway to the job market, certain disciplines and endeavors seem poised to be downgraded in favor of those fields of study deemed to deliver greater returns. What of student engagement with the world beyond the classroom? How does that kind of activity square with the university's evolving mission?
Woodbury University's recent recognition in the 2015 President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll suggests that civic and community engagement are alive and well on our campus, and on others across the country. Indeed, these activities are thriving, as they must if the university is to deliver a transformative educational experience. We achieve academic excellence by focusing on purposeful student engagement; establishing community partnerships; and cultivating a personal, interactive learning environment that focuses on innovative, practice-based education.
The Honor Roll program cited Woodbury's activities in both general community service and education, calling out:
the university's 2014 Civic Engagement Symposium
the expanded mandate of the ACE (Agency for Civic Engagement) Center
the Service Learning Initiative within the School of Business
Woodbury's summer youth camps
the university's Initial Credit Summer School (ICSS) program
our college awareness initiatives in partnership with the Los Angeles Unified School District
But it isn't simply the diversity of our institution's civic engagement efforts that garnered the attention of the White House. It was the breadth and depth of the Woodbury community's involvement - that is, in time and, if you will, sweat equity - that makes this story so powerful an example. Fully 30 percent of students, faculty and staff participated in civic engagement and community service projects during the 2013/2014 school year, volunteering approximately 100,000 hours.
(By the way, that 100,000 hours translates to more than 4,100 days, or 11 years.)
Our main thrust for further expanding our volunteer and community service will occur through ACE, which already works with disadvantaged communities, including Skid Row Housing and the Watts section of Los Angeles.
Woodbury students are empowered to lead lives of influence and improve society. Our students are mentored while being given opportunities in which they can make a difference. They get involved in meaningful community projects to expand their connections and create possibilities - and in so doing, they develop a sense of belonging and gain a deeper understanding of involved citizenship. The university's commitment to community service includes not only the guided contributions of students but extends as well to the generous work of the faculty and staff. The university embraces and promotes a truly communal effort in aiding the greater community and assisting under-served populations.
Civic engagement at this level isn't ancillary to education; it is inseparable from it.
David Steele-Figueredo is President of Woodbury University in Burbank, Calif.