Engagement and Service

Looking Forward


As part of the reaccreditation process we convened an accreditation working group that was asked to examine the meaning and value of the University’s engagement, service, and outreach activities. In particular, the AWG examined ways in which the University can build on its current strengths and considered areas for future improvement. Each AWG produced a set of recommendations that were incorporated in the preparation of this report. Since each group consisted of a relatively small number of engaged faculty or staff members, these recommendations are presented to stimulate further conversation and thought, and are not intended to convey approval or commitment at this time.

The leadership of schools and colleges offer a range of views about the connection of engagement and service to their missions. These perspectives on engagement and service were captured in a supporting activity that examines the value and role of these activities (see report on Engagement and Service). The units specify the mutual benefits they expect from engagement and encourage their faculty members and students in this work. Several campus-wide institutions, which include the Ginsberg Center, the Community Assistance Directory of the Office of the Vice President for Government Relations, and the new Center for Educational Outreach support engagement in the form of training, advice, and connections with community partners. However, none of these currently has the mission or the capacity to lead all aspects of engagement and service at the University of Michigan.

Strengthening the University’s Engagement and Service

The University is already very active in the area of engagement and service, with broad participation and interest among our students. For the future, it is important to build on this success. We need to organize what we have done effectively and find resources to respond to increasing need. The recommendations for further strengthening our engagement and service activities are organized into three categories. First, we would benefit from knowing more about what we are doing in engagement and service on an ongoing basis. Second, there is room for growth in our capacity for engagement and service among faculty, staff, and students. Third, this aspect of the University’s mission would be further strengthened through increased institutional support.

Catalog Faculty, Student, and Staff Activities in Engagement and Service

Knowing what we already do is a key step to broader assessment and identification of ways to strengthen activities’ contributions to the University’s mission. Information is typically collected after engagement has occurred. For example, the Ginsberg Center counts service-learning courses and student organizations involved in service at the end of each academic year, and the Office of the Vice President for Government Relations asks for updates of descriptions of engagement projects for their state-focused Community Assistance Directory each year. Using administrative processes already in place to identify engagement and service would make tracking activity easier. A better overview would allow for support of ongoing efforts, improve the quality and impact of these efforts, and guide new activities. The AWG recommended that relevant campus units consider the actions below.

  • Indicate that a course offering involves service-learning in the course registration system. When a course is entered in the University system (Wolverine Access), a question could be asked whether the course requires service learning or offers this as an option to students. Ohio State University, for example, designates “S” courses that offer students service-learning opportunities. Knowing what courses include service learning helps in advising students, in communicating with faculty members who teach courses that involve service, and in articulating standards that service learning courses should meet.
  • Provide specific information in Maize Pages about student organizations. Student organizations register in Maize Pages to become eligible for University funding. In the registration process they check categories of activities that reflect what they do. However, these categories are vague and do not identify which organizations are involved in engagement and service. Clearer information about student organizations would also enable faculty and staff members to contact student leaders about opportunities to receive course credit for service, funding possibilities, and course offerings that relate to their interests.
  • Create an electronic faculty activities report system. Offer a records system that tracks information about the type of engagement, the number of faculty, students, and staff involved, and the location of engagement and service. Cornell University collects information in this way. Faculty, staff, and students could find out more easily about other projects in the same locations, which would also make collaboration possible. Community partners could also more easily obtain contact information about campus members working in their neighborhoods or on issues of interest. Collecting such information would also allow University communications to highlight the University’s many contributions to places, people, and organizations.
  • Identify ways to document engagement and service not captured by current administrative processes. Much engagement and service occurs with grants from internal sources or gifts from donors, or through programs that support engagement outside courses and without grants, but they are not typically recorded.
  • Use conflict of interest forms to collect information on the faculty’s engagement and service. The Medical School and College of Engineering offer examples of electronic reporting of activities that can involve conflict of interest. The activities documented in these forms include some that represent engagement and service.
  • Identify whether engagement and service are part of a proposal for external funding. A basic checkoff box on Proposal Approval Forms would allow for sorting of projects that involve engagement through our research funding databases.
  • Institutionalize surveys of students’ engagement and service. Continue and expand existing surveys (e.g., CIRP and the graduating senior survey) to track student interest activities in this area.

Increase the Capacity for Engagement and Service

Many ways exist to increase the capacity for engagement and service, especially if we find out more about what we already do. The following are recommendations in the areas of enhancing teaching that involves service learning, strengthening student organizations’ and individual students’ engagement and service, and advancing engaged research and creative work.

Teaching that Involves Engagement and Service

  • Build faculty capacity for teaching service-learning courses. Knowing what courses involve service-learning allows outreach to faculty members and graduate students who teach such courses and facilitates the offering of workshops for identifying ways to advance students’ learning and community benefits. Faculty members could also showcase how to integrate research with service-learning teaching so that teaching further advances research and create standards that service-learning courses need to meet. While service-learning courses are not required, setting standards would strengthen the offerings.
  • Increase community benefits associated with service-learning classes. Faculty members and graduate students often have little knowledge about how to assure that community partners benefit from the services provided. If community partners do not benefit, we may be exploiting them as assistants in teaching, especially those involved in small nonprofit organizations. Many faculty members and students would benefit from workshops that help to increase the benefits to community partners of engagement and service activities.
  • Create faculty fellowships for developing new service-learning courses. Faculty members who have never included service learning need time to learn how to develop such courses. Outside most professional schools, many faculty members were never exposed in graduate school to service-learning as an approach to teaching and never had an opportunity to create such a course. A faculty fellowship would offer time to learn and to create courses with advice from others.
  • Provide support for departments working on curricular change that incorporates service learning. Service- learning courses often exist in isolation in a department, but in some units faculty members have worked to integrate service learning into the curriculum--for example in the Schools of Nursing and Art & Design, and within the LSA, the Residential College, and the Program in American Culture. The Gilbert Whitaker Fund for the Improvement of Teaching offers some funding for such efforts but is not sufficient. The Ginsberg Center and CRLT can offer best practices in teaching support.

Student Organizations’ and Individual Students’ Engagement and Service

The approximately 100 student organizations that involve engagement and service as a major activity have a considerable impact on students’ experiences, but most of these organizations have no formal connection with University programs, so students may not gain as much as they could from their involvement. Students need opportunities to learn about the systems that lead to the problems they address and the socio-political-economic context in which their community partners operate, as well as the potential outcomes of their involvement. They also would benefit from more opportunities to see how their work relates to future careers and life habits and to continue to pursue their passions in service activities after graduation.

  • Create courses that offer reflection and readings related to service. Each department could offer at least one course oriented around understanding the systems and context of students’ service learning. A few sections of the Department of Sociology’s Project Community operate in this way for students working with youth who are not likely to consider college and for students working on the Young People’s Project. The Semester in Detroit program similarly offers a course of this type.
  • Provide students with guidance about courses and faculty members that relate to their service interests. If students did not have to hunt for information, they might be more likely to take courses that relate to, for example, fair-labor practices, international genocide, and many other social, political, and economic issues that concern them.
  • Support community partners in expecting benefits from students’ service. Community organizations often “let” students do engagement projects, but they have not always been involved in developing the idea for the work and they do not necessarily propose modifications that would result in advancing community agendas more effectively. Students have much to learn from the expertise of community partners but do not necessarily realize this if the community partners are not fully involved. Preparing community partners to work with students and to understand their rights in getting benefits from students’ engagement would help achieve this.
  • Create e-portfolios to record and reflect on activities. E-portfolio is an electronic tool to help students record activities that are not readily captured otherwise, to organize their reflections, and to connect what they learned across varied activities.
  • Strengthen students’ understanding about how to engage in partnerships. Steer students who are involved in student organizations toward the programs that help them to learn how to work with community partners. Such programs are offered by the Program on Intergroup Relations, Ginsberg Center, the new Center for Educational Outreach, and others. Some service-learning courses, such as the sociology department’s Project Community and the psychology department’s Project Outreach, mentioned earlier, also provide this grounding.
  • Offer online training for working with community partners. In-person sessions are optimal for many students, but when these are not possible, more use of online training tools could help provide students with background about what to consider as they enter communities with which they are not familiar. Michigan State University, for example, has implemented online “Tools for Engagement” to help meet this need.

Students are very interested in engagement and service, as evidenced by the high percentage of graduating seniors and alumni who reported they had been involved in such activities during their time at the University. However, as students stated in a recent “fireside chat” with President Coleman and others, they cannot necessarily take time away from courses and employment in the current difficult economic times. The recommendation (above) to create courses that offer reflection related to students’ service would help by offering credits that build on the service. We also recognize below other ways to enable students to meet multiple aims they have through their service activities.

  • Enable more students to do engagement and service through their work-study employment. Certifying more nonprofit organizations in the Ann Arbor area to employ work-study students would increase the number of community-based positions available and provide students opportunities to offer valued service in many fields. Many students can work ten hours per week in such positions, enough hours to offer considerable benefit to the organizations.
  • Find more ways to offer course credit for volunteer internships. Internships by themselves usually do not receive course credit, but if they are linked to systems for encouraging and monitoring reflection, perhaps through e-portfolios, they may merit course credit. Semester in Detroit has implemented such an internship.

Advancing Engaged Research and Creative Work

Many Ph.D. students are interested in learning about models for an engaged faculty career. The Rackham Graduate School’s sponsorship of the Public Humanities Institute and the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching’s workshops for the future professoriate support students in figuring out how they can do engaged research and creative work.

  • Continue and strengthen programs that enable Ph.D. students to learn more about engaged research and creative work. Students would benefit from more opportunities to see a broad range of choices in the kind of work they can do in their careers.

As discussed above, faculty members in many fields carry out outstanding research in the area of service and engagement. The challenges that arise in some cases suggest areas for improvement. For one, grant requirements have meant that many of those who receive federal funds need to incorporate initiatives to assure that their findings will be applied, or to bring about societal benefit. Although much engagement and service associated with research and creative work is of high quality, some is not, as faculty members who are untrained in this kind of work seek to meet grant requirements at a potential cost to the people or organizations they intend to serve. Projects that alienate community partners cause difficulty for faculty members and graduate students working to implement projects in their wake. Faculty affected by problems with other projects say that service and engagement projects need to meet some standards. “No hit and runs,” said one with long-term commitment to community-based participatory research. The University would further strengthen its capacity for engagement and service that occur through research projects through the efforts below.

  • Implement an online training program for principal investigators. Offer a program to complete before implementing engagement and service associated with research grants. The training module would teach about principles of community engagement. This could potentially be integrated into the PEERRS training system for responsible research.
  • Offer a workshop for staff who implement engagement and service programs. The workshop could be associated with faculty grants in this area. An online training program is not always sufficient preparation for this type of work.

Engaged scholarship, or public scholarship, can advance a faculty member’s scholarship while also moving community agendas forward. However, many faculty members undertake service and engagement work as an aside project, participating in community development service projects that have little or no connection to their teaching and research. This makes engagement difficult to sustain and yields few rewards for faculty members in their University careers, leading them to miss opportunities to enrich both their research and their teaching. In other situations, faculty engagement leads to knowledge production in forms that are unusual in a given discipline, such as policy documents, performance works generated by humanists, or oral histories carried out by artists. Faculty assessment practices are often ill suited to judging the quality and contribution of such work.

Whatever the specific type of public scholarship carried out by a faculty member, we know from the experience of programs such as Arts of Citizenship that making the transition from incorporating service-learning into one’s teaching into publishing forms of public scholarship can take time and requires a community of collegial support. In other words, the relationship between the two is developmentally demanding. Few faculty members, especially those outside professional schools, have had exposure to this kind of research. Many faculty members discover the scholarly/creative potential of public engagement through community-based teaching. Thus community project-based teaching can be the point of intersection between pedagogy and significant developments in the faculty member’s field, an intersection that leads to productive public scholarship. But faculty members need support through programs such as Arts of Citizenship in building public scholarship projects toward the point of publication (whether the project originated in teaching or not).

  • Continue Arts of Citizenship’s work to support public scholarship in the arts, humanities, and design. The Arts of Citizenship program offers funding for faculty members to undertake research related to service and engagement, and the program also couples funding with training programs and advice about how to strengthen such work. Workshops explore how to present the work’s scholarly contribution, how to integrate projects into teaching, and how to partner with people outside the University.
  • Offer training programs to faculty members in many fields who are interested in doing public scholarship. Building on work in community-based public health, social work, and nursing, and on advances in public scholarship in other fields, training programs could be developed to strengthen faculty members’ capacity in this kind of scholarship and creative work.

Faculty, students, and staff often carry out research and creative work with an engagement focus, service-learning, and service projects in places where many other faculty, students, and staff also work. They do not necessarily know about each other’s work until they meet in those places or when partners suggest they contact each other. For example, many disconnected projects are ongoing in Ypsilanti, the Brightmoor section of northwest Detroit, southwest Detroit, and in Flint. An effort to identify University-community partnerships in Brightmoor found 24 separate projects from student organizations, staff-led programs, service-learning courses from five schools and colleges, and community-based participatory research projects. The community benefit of such engagement and service would be enhanced if faculty, students, and staff knew enough about each other’s work to build on these efforts to advance community agendas. Strengthening the connections among University-community collaborations in the same location would greatly benefit the University community’s service and engagement work. Two examples of how the University might achieve this enhancement are below.

  • Identify ways to enable partnerships to learn about others in the same places. The systematic collection of data about projects (see above) would provide information about projects in the same places and therefore enable faculty members and students to connect with each other. The existing Community Assistance Directory offers some of that aid already. Information about other projects has led to the linking of service-learning courses in Social Work and Urban and Regional Planning, for example, and to joint research proposals involving Landscape Architecture, Public Health, and Urban and Regional Planning.
  • Communicate with other universities. University of Michigan faculty members and students often encounter students and faculty members from other institutions as they undertake engagement and service. Better communication about each institution’s efforts might enable the work to have greater community benefit. An informal association, the Southeast Michigan University-Community Collaborative, which involves the University along with Michigan State University, Wayne State University, Marygrove College, Madonna University, and several other institutions, illustrates how the work at different institutions can be more complementary.

Increase Institutional Support for Engagement and Service

Institutional leadership is essential in cultivating and promoting a positive environment for engagement and service. In particular central and unit leadership can play key roles in advancing this area for the University. Below are a set of recommendations for central leadership to consider.

  • Support an environment of engagement and service that enables and encourages every unit, faculty member, and student to follow their ideas about how to engage with those outside the University, and to continue to create the thousands of projects, programs, courses, and research initiatives that no central guiding administrator or office could ever coordinate, dictate, or imagine.
  • Engage the campus in discussions of engagement and service through forums that enable campus constituents to learn from each other within and between academic units. The unit responses to the questions on engagement (see appendix “Units on Engagement”) show uneven understanding about ways to think about engagement and service. Sessions on this topic could also be integrated into the annual leadership program for associate deans and chairs.
  • Assess leadership of schools and colleges on their support for engagement and service by including these activities in unit and leadership reviews.
  • Articulate the value of engagement in public statements, relating public engagement to student learning and the co-creation of knowledge with communities.
  • Address bureaucratic barriers. In an organization as large as the University of Michigan, difficulties arise in getting offices in different part of the University to help meet the needs of faculty, students, and staff in implementing engagement and service activities. For example, University Housing could facilitate the use of residence halls for efforts that bring high school students to campus.

To increase its support for service and engagement, unit leadership should also consider the actions below.

  • Communicate and reward. Communicate the value of engagement and service to faculty and staff members and reward them for excellent research and creative work, teaching and service that involve engagement.
  • Convene college engagement councils to address challenges, articulate goals, and find ways to advance service and engagement work in keeping with the schools’ and colleges’ missions. Examples of such committees already exist in the School of Public Health and the College of Engineering, which offer models for others.
  • Work with department chairs to find ways to encourage service-learning courses, as well as faculty research development, in areas relevant to the discipline or interdisciplinary field. These efforts might include workshops with faculty members on teaching such courses, and efforts to ease logistical barriers.
  • Encourage strengthening the quality of service-learning courses in advancing student learning and in benefiting community partners. Faculty members and graduate students teaching such courses could receive guidance about best practices in service-learning and in community engagement.
  • Integrate assessment of engaged teaching and research and creative work into tenure and promotion reviews. Several schools and colleges already include such assessments, for example, the School of Social Work, the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, and the School of Art & Design. The Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT) offers models for how to integrate this type of assessment with respect to teaching that incorporates service.
  • Integrate engagement and service initiatives into development. Engagement and service funding is often unstable and comes in small amounts, making it difficult for programs to achieve their goals. To address this unmet need, units could integrate attempts to raise funds for engagement and service activities more completely into their development goals. Because so many foundations and major donors seek to fund activities that contribute to solving public problems, a focus on engagement can even enhance fund-raising efforts.
  • Provide funding for engagement and service. Although most units recognize engagement and service as important to the curriculum, they rarely allocate funds to facilitate service-learning and other forms of engagement. One challenge to integrating engagement into teaching is paying for students’ transportation. Although lab fees can cover these costs in large classes, fees become too high in smaller classes to support the offering.
  • Create an online, monitored system for matching students with volunteer positions and projects in nonprofit organizations. Such a system would enable community organizations to request help from students during designated periods of time, and it would also allow students to sign up for particular types of positions. Such a system could also link students and community partners to the forms they need to complete, including, for example, documents that address the responsibilities of each party, liability agreements, evaluations of the work, and assessments of student learning--with links tailored to each role or positions. Faculty members teaching large undergraduate courses could then more easily offer service-learning sections, with GSIs trained to guide students’ reflection and with staff in place to monitor the online system and to match interested students with appropriate placements.