Endless opportunities exist for individuals to give back and contribute to the positive development of their communities. Yet, a mere 25.4 percent of adults in West Virginia report regular volunteerism, according to the United States Census Bureau. That ranks West Virginia 35 out of 50 states in community activism.
Brett White, operations coordinator for the West Virginia University Center for Civic Engagement, suggests one way to encourage positive and long-term volunteering habits is through the activism of young adults, especially college students.
“Our goal is to engage students while in college, so that they graduate and become engaged, active citizens once they enter the workforce,” White said.
In the report titled, “A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy’s Future, a National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement,” the task force calls for civic learning and democracy as an immediate priority in higher education.
According to the report, college students should have “knowledge of U.S. history, political structures, and core democratic principles, diverse cultures and religions in the U.S. and around the world, open-mindedness and the capacity to engage different points of view and cultures, civic problem-solving skills and experience, as well as civility, ethical integrity and mutual respect” by graduation.
The CCE establishes these ideals for WVU students by providing diverse opportunities through interdisciplinary events involving service learning, research, volunteerism and partnership. Students are also provided with guidance in becoming civically engaged citizens, scholars and leaders.
The report explains that these vital skills cannot be attained merely through classroom simulations but in conjunction with the integration of real world experiences.
That learning environment is where the CCE comes into play for WVU students, said Dr. Kristi Wood-Turner, director of the CCE.
“By integrating service-learning into academic study, we are able to connect hands-on experience with learning outcomes,” Wood-Turner said. “Our Center is here to help faculty incorporate those meaningful connections into their courses.”
By working as a liaison between the university and the community, the CCE benefits the surrounding area with an abundance of volunteers while also providing students with skills that can broaden their knowledge as they graduate and move into the work force.
“We believe that when students become involved in their communities, it helps widen their world view and welcomes new experiences into their everyday lives,” Wood-Turner said. “Experiencing events and circumstances outside of one’s comfort level is crucial to earning a well-rounded college education.”
The S Designation program began offering courses in Spring 2012. These courses allow students to use service or service-learning pedagogies to help them succeed. The designation, noted in the WVU Course Catalog, allows students to easily find these courses.
“If, as the report outlines, WVU makes a commitment to educating all students in how their political system functions, our society as a whole will surely benefit,” said Adriane Herlihy, a WVU senior public relations major and CCE volunteer from Gassaway, W.Va. “This is why there is a true need to come together as a community and demand that civic engagement be a fundamental element of every college student’s experience, regardless of major.”
The CCE is located on the third floor of Stansbury Hall. For more information or to find out more about programming and opportunities, please visit http://cce.wvu.edu.
CONTACT: Brett White, Center for Civic Engagement
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