Institute introduces participants to theory and practice of academic community engagement

By: JP Shortall

July 13, 2017

The 2017 Center for Social Concerns Community Engagement Faculty Institute (CEFI) was held June 13–15. Now in its sixth year, the Institute gathers community partners, faculty, and graduate students from the local area, around the country, and internationally to explore and deepen their knowledge of community-engaged teaching and research.

The Institute was first held in 2012 as a response to growing interest in community-engaged learning at the University. Each year it has brought roughly 30 participants together for three days of lectures and community partner site visits to address a central theme from various perspectives. This year’s theme was “Solidarity: Soul of Development,” which was also the focus of Center for Social Concerns programming.

Connie Mick is associate director of the Center for Social Concerns and directs the Institute, which she sees as a way to support the University’s mission. “The University's mission statement challenges faculty to help students ‘develop a disciplined sensibility to the poverty and injustice that burden the lives of so many,’ and the Community Engagement Faculty Institute is a direct response to that call,” she explains.

The three-day faculty institute is itself a model of community engagement. It features workshops by faculty and experts from local organizations along with field trips into the local community to talk with center partners who address a range of social concerns, such as poverty, health care, and education.

This year’s site visits included the DePaul Academy at the Juvenile Justice Center, the Center for the Homeless, the Near Northwest Neighborhood Association, El Campito Child Development Center, Goodwill Industries, LOGAN Industries, the Sister Maura Brannick, C.S.C., Medical Center, and the Civil Right Heritage Center. Youth actors from the Robinson Shakespeare Company at the Robinson Community Learning Center also performed for participants on campus, answering questions about how their ensemble approach strengthens their sense of belonging and solidarity. 

“The Faculty Institute provided a fabulous opportunity to network and connect with faculty, staff, community partners, and graduate students who are committed to community engagement,” says Audrey Falk, associate professor and director of the Master’s Program in Community Engagement at Merrimack College. Falk, a first-time participant in the institute, explained that CEFI “provided a welcoming and supportive environment which was ideal for relationship-building and sharing of resources.”

Erin Moira Lemrow is an academic advisor in the University’s College of First Year of Studies, concurrent teaching faculty member for the Institute for Latino Studies, and first time participant in the Institute. She was pleased to learn about how many connections Notre Dame has to the local community. “Universities have a responsibility to provide support to the communities in which they reside. As an integral component to this support, the University also needs to lead the charge in advocating for community uplift and student engagement in this initiative. One must be both a scholar of the mind and heart and I can think of no better way to embody these ideals than being part of community engagement at ND.”

In 2018, the Faculty Institute will consider the Center for Social Concerns annual theme, "The Challenge of Peace."  Faculty interested in considering how their teaching and research can help advocate for impact in local communities worldwide can contact Connie Mick

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