KALAMAZOO, Mich.—For the second consecutive time, Western Michigan University has received the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification, which recognizes higher education institutions across the country for their outstanding institutional commitment to transformative collaboration locally and beyond.
Only 359 colleges and universities maintain the classification, an elective endeavor that requires institutions to voluntarily submit information describing the impact of their community engagement initiatives, ranging from class projects that address local needs to engaged research that maintains national or international reach.
WMU is one of 119 institutions in the country to be awarded the designation in the 2020 cycle, one of only 13 doctoral-granting universities with a “high research activity” classification to receive this recognition, and one of 11 in Michigan to be named.
The University’s application documented that, in one year’s time, its faculty, students and staff:
- Contributed 1.34 million hours to community-engagement initiatives;
- Partnered with over 1,500 unique community organizations; and
- Offered 333 credit-bearing, community-based learning courses representing more than 75% of its academic units and programs.
This classification is the second consecutive time WMU has been recognized for its community-engagement efforts by the Carnegie Foundation. Since its most recent classification in 2010, WMU’s community-engagement efforts have increased sizably.
WMU’s selection means the institution’s dedication to dynamic and noteworthy community engagement runs through its mission, culture, leadership, allocations, and practices, says Kara Wood, associate vice president for community partnerships and co-chair of the University’s Civic Action Planning Team.
It also illustrates The University’s commitment to co-creating learning and public-impact focused research opportunities with community partners to develop innovative and sustainable solutions to critical societal issues such as poverty, racial equity, access to affordable healthcare, and the environment.
“WMU has a long history of public service and community partnership, including experiential learning opportunities that allow faculty and students to apply their work and produce useful solutions for business, government and nonprofit agencies,” Wood says.
“This recertification brings prestigious recognition and visibility to the accomplishments of our faculty and students.”
The 2020 Carnegie Elective Classification for Community Engagement was developed by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in the early 2000s. The foundation, which works to improve American education, understands community engagement as transformative.
Carnegie officials say that community-engaged partnerships can “enrich scholarship, research and creative activity; enhance curriculum, teaching, and learning; prepare educated, engaged citizens; strengthen democratic values and civic responsibility; address critical societal issues; and contribute to the public good.”
The classification parameters recognize schools that prioritize the mutually beneficial creation and exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity.
The application’s lead author, Dr. Brian Gogan, associate professor of English and co-chair of the Civic Action Planning Team, notes that the 2020 application was significantly more rigorous than the one completed in 2010.
“The 2020 application asked for much more specific pieces of data, such as the number and employment status of faculty who offered community engaged courses to their students,” Gogan says. “And, the 2020 application process further required the University to submit names of 15 community partners, who were contacted for confidential assessments of WU’s community engagement work.”
The University’s community engagement practices with public and private entities are longstanding, widespread, and diverse, as its Community Engagement Geo-Map shows.
Noteworthy collaborations include:
- Hydrogeology field courses focused on hazardous man-made chemicals known by the acronym PFAS. Taught by Professor Matt Reeves, Ph.D., the courses have introduced several students to PFAS-contaminated sites and government agency-collaborative remediation efforts. Reeves is also pursuing Michigan Department of Natural Resources funding to study the Huron River Watershed, and he is working with a WMU doctoral candidate in chemistry on developing destructive technologies to break down PFAS.
- Southwest Michigan Children’s Trauma Assessment Center. The center provides comprehensive neurodevelopment trauma assessments for children who have experienced trauma or adverse childhood experiences. College of Health and Human Services students provide thousands of fieldwork hours at the center as part of their professional training.
- The Kalamazoo Literacy Council hosts an annual Adult Literacy Research and Training Symposium with WMU, which has impacted nearly 875 adult learners and has improved instructional capabilities of almost 300 volunteers. One major objective of the symposium is to facilitate cooperation between academic research of best practices in adult literacy and community-based application of this knowledge in the community, including service learning and internship opportunities for students.
- WIRE Youth Development Programs. These free offerings have benefited more than 1,000 youth between the ages of 7 and 13. The STEAM-focused programs help youth envision themselves in college and in desirable careers, and provide culturally sensitive guidance and instruction to help them get there.
WMU’s 2020 Carnegie application, which included comparisons to information submitted with its 2010 application, demonstrated a significant increase in the depth and breadth of community engagement efforts.
“We aim for the University to build upon our past work by promoting the assets of our faculty and students to showcase even higher quality community partnerships in the next reclassification process,” Wood says. “Our goal is to increase the strength, impact, and sustainability of our partnerships, all the while contributing to our students’ educational experience and effecting positive societal change.”
For more information, contact Margaret von Steinen, executive assistant senior in the Office of Government Relations, at (269) 387-2972 or Margaret.firstname.lastname@example.org.
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