March 4, 2013 by Drew Stelljes
Civic engagement is often described by individual or collective action, conducted with a systematic approach, designed to address issues of social concern. Grounded in democratic governance, it is a means by which balanced and measured decision-making for the public good determines the policies by which decisions are made or reform is enacted when it does not meet the common good. Are colleges meeting this great democratic aspiration with the proliferation of centers for civic engagement?
Civic engagement, shaped by activities and programs, are often couched in the college or university organizational hierarchy as a center. The Center exists in physical and cyber space serving as a connecting point for students and faculty that might be most inclined to become civically engaged. It provides the safe space for cultivation of ideas for those interested in experimenting with some form of engaged learning. In most cases the Center becomes another silo politicking for scarce funds, using the rhetoric of the institution’s founding purpose, to call upon funders, internal and external, to answer the call to action. Many times, a small and dedicated cadre of renegade professors, feeling themselves marginalized, get a morsel of funding to experiment with pedagogy. These centers are generally good and safe for the keepers of our organizations and governance. A new center, while a slight strain on existing resources, also brings with it the appeal of something true to core mission while not altering the existing structure of the University. The new Center can get in line with the others and make their pitch. It does not require the institution to change its operating system. This model is proliferated across colleges and universities and in most cases lauded for its outreach, clothed in the vocabulary of community partnership, mutual benefit and reciprocal learning.
Centers that provide programs and services are flourishing. They tell a good story of the student experience. Quantifiable are meals served, children tutored, houses built. It’s the cheap and easy way for colleges to “do civic engagement” and it looks good on the web and on paper. It resonates with service-oriented donors, prospective students and families. The problem is the academic core of the college, the space where students actually learn something about engagement, suffers. Decades worth of faculty, staff and students have advocated for a change in the system that shapes the academic culture of the entire organization, removing the now stale argument against service-learning or community based research, in favor of the more familiar publish or perish, teaching, research and committee work professional reward system. Civic engagement pushes against the dominant framework of singular expertise. Colleges hire experts, in very particular fields, and expect that the person become even more expert over decades, through a combination of research, writing and reflection. The persistent framework rewards the familiar – a new center that mirrors a successful one; a tenure review process that stays the course. A consistent messaging of what we’ve done and will continue rewarding
In this era of rapidly eroding financial support for public higher education and tuition increases that outpace inflation, the prospects for attainment of an education that teaches with civic engagement in the bulls-eye of the educational framework, is increasingly difficult to attain. Simultaneously public opinion of the mission of higher education is increasingly perceived as a market-driven institution existing for the economic benefit of the individual, the upward mobility of a social class and in turn further sedimentation of the class hierarchy. Now, more than ever, colleges and universities should take the hard road, but the path that has meaning and purpose, where engagement means fixing the system that created our national conundrum.
The Institution itself, charging for services, instantly creates the inequity divide. Outreach can inadvertently perpetuate that chasm, making the handout become the habit rather than the obstacle toward real progress. Our nation is in desperate need of effective, deliberate, developmental socio-cultural, economic and political discussions and shared understandings. Various publics are increasingly expecting financial reward for financial input. If an individual pays a larger share for a good and service, they expect a larger financial reward. Problem is, colleges are not, at their core, career factories. They resist, with varying success, the increased pressure from their customers to focus primarily on training for a vocational skill.
The history of higher education in the first part of the 21st century is partially written and it does not read well for civic engagement. The dominant form of civic engagement that has emerged in higher education is rich in outreach and handouts. It is largely deplete of the democratic virtues our nation is so desperate to recapture. Many colleges and universities are touting their most noble mission as that of reciprocity and yet the systems and structures have yet to change. If a college were to be bold in the face of an eroded or vacant trust in the civic mission of their work, a remodeled system would include new goals, strategies and roles for its faculty. A new way of reward would abandon tyranny of the top tier journal, of review of peers, by peers, and instead be dominated by assessment from community peers. If a college were so bold as to remain wholly dedicated to its civic mission and to embark on the difficult task of culture change focusing on shared understandings, community engagement, common frameworks for discovering within and with community, that college could take back the first part of this century from market-driven pressures.
Colleges devoted to their civic mission, do not educate for a job, they educate for citizenry and for citizenship. Job training skills can be acquired outside of an expensive assortment of buildings. The framework that will allow our society to persist, to exist through this turmoil of the first part of the century, is the framework of civic engagement. The public needs colleges and universities to train for constructive exchange of ideas, peaceful cooperation among a diverse citizenry with myriad perspectives on hard-to-solve problems.
The staffs in centers that promote civic engagement are themselves, called to action. A systemic approach to changing organizational systems could be the great work of the first part of the 21st century, the lasting legacy of the great democratic aspiration of civic engagement in higher education.
December 5, 2012 by Drew Stelljes
Often saying grace gets wrapped up in the To Whom or For What and then many people abandon the activity. In my estimation it’s not about whom I am speaking with that’s important. It’s instead about hearing more than saying.
The funny thing about saying grace is that you actually do not need to say anything. The essence of grace is so uncomplicated: just your breath, moving a miraculous engine in a circular and repetitive motion.
It is when we are silent, that the sounds of life take over. What a gift it is to hear the sounds of our world. At first, we hear the sounds of the heater, the clicking of a pencil, the rattle of feet. We may hear the whisper of a cool breeze or the chatter of friends in the distance. We hear, always the rhythmic sound of our breath, and when in silence, the repetitive circular motion of inhaling and exhaling slows, our body less encumbered by the stress of our daily life. And then, we may begin to hear, again, after a long absence, the sounds of grace, of ordinary goodness, of gladness, of extraordinary appreciation that is indistinguishable from gratitude. This is grace.
This is a particularly tough time of year. Life is busy. People are expecting a lot. Deadlines invade our freedom to be our best selves. In this time of loud noises, I wish that each of our students will hear grace.
August 23, 2012 by Drew Stelljes
George Srour ’05, founder of Building Tomorrow, offers his best wishes to the Class of 2016. George received the Monroe Prize for Civic Leadership in 2005. Check out the news coverage.
I wish you the consuming unity of the Tribe.
I wish you the discovery of a voice and of a passion that will define your time at W&M and beyond.
I wish you triumphs that bring you great joy and challenges that reaffirm who you know yourself to be.
I wish you great luck keeping dry as the rains soak the storied brick paths that will define your future.
And I hope you will quickly find the one place on campus that redefines what it means to finally be home.
August 23, 2012 by Drew Stelljes
Cosmo was the recipient of the prestigious Monroe Prize for Civic Leadership in 2007. Check out the news coverage.
Dream HUGE. Have a random conversation a day with someone new. Give yourself permission to try, fail and learn. Love yourself. Be yourself. Be mindful. Go tribe!!!!
I wish you many cups of Wawa’s premiere Mac and Cheese. Best at 3:15AM.
I wish you boldness.
I wish you many renditions of the alma mater.
Try out for an a capella group! Big personal regret of mine is that I didn’t try out.
Above all, I wish you time. Time to soak it all in. Time to meet friends for coffee and inspiration at the Daily Grind. Time to be fiercely you, and all the beauty that comes with the journey.
August 22, 2012 by Drew Stelljes
The residence halls will soon spring to life for another glorious academic year. The incoming class is the most accomplished to this point in their collective life as any our university has ever welcomed.
Freshman and transfer move-in is among my favorites sites of the school year. There is such emotion on campus. For as long as each new student has been alive, or longer, a family member or many have dreamed of this day. Still, there is a sense of dread, angst and curiosity. All that you aspired for is now a reality. With that comes such excitement for something new and some sadness for a loss of that which you were striving.
Here are my wishes for each student in the new class:
- I wish for you good days, interest in learning, finding a lifelong friendship, feeling a sense of accomplishment at least monthly, and the ability to cope during challenging times, to heal from the toughest moments and to later thrive.
- I wish for you to find a deep sense of calling so that you can pursue fulfilling work and have every confidence on your ability to do your part to change the world.
- I wish for you your best moments happen often and that those moments pass slowly.
- I wish your bad days are few and that when they pass you can look back with an understanding of what you learned.
- I wish for you to have dreams for your best life and when a dream comes true that you have the hunger to dream again.
I hope you know that the people leaving you at William and Mary are not far away. They have worked so hard to prepare you for this time in your life. There will always be a person to listen when you speak and to find you when you are alone.
One recipe for success at William and Mary:
Eat healthy food. Get consistent sleep. Go to class always. Be interested in the topic. Ask for help at the first sign of needing it. Accomplish something outside of class. Develop a few real and lasting friendships. Consider your role in community. Feel a part of something bigger than you. Be thankful for this place.
Your dream came true. Your loved ones dream came true. You made it. Rejoice.
August 6, 2012 by Drew Stelljes
Guest blogger: Adriana Green writes about her first day as an intern at the DC Central Kitchen. Adriana graduated from William & Mary in May 2012 and participated in the DC Summer Institute on Leadership in Community Engagement.
Some days the wind is blowing, the rain is falling and you’ve tripped up every broken escalator from Springfield to Gallery Place.
So much for a great first impression.
The start of Intern Orientation Week had me disheveled and attempting the impossible task of sneaking into DCCK (DC Central Kitchen).
I didn’t make it 30 seconds.
“Girl, why don’t you walk in the regular door and let everybody see you.”
I smiled, high-fived and shuffled into the break room, thus started orientation. Last week was filled with field trips. From a day organizing utensils and chopping kale at the nutrition lab, to visiting one of the only high school campus kitchens, to happy hour with the development team, we got to see so many DCCK nooks and crannies all the while being mildly disheveled.
Throughout the journeys I couldn’t help but remember our DCSI (DC Summer Institute) advice: “network, network, network”. And while it’s hard to pass out cards in an apron and a hair net, I did everything I could to remember names. One lesson I unintentionally learned is that you’re biggest obstacle may not be working with those above you, but with other interns.
Our group was wonderful, I met a young woman who is so much like my childhood best friend that I had to call and make sure she was okay because my fellow intern would make a wonderful case for reincarnation. I also had to realize that there are people in this world who are money driven, and as DCCK is one of the few organizations that offers stipends to their interns, not everyone is in it for the experience. I was put into an incredibly tough position when I saw a fellow intern stealing hand lotions that were meant to go into care packets for women who are suffering through homelessness each and every day. I’m still not sure how to handle what I witnessed, but it was a reality check I needed: it’s important to know why you, and those around you, are doing the work we’re doing because one of the biggest set-backs in the non-profit industry may not be the type of work, but some of the people involved in it.
So why am I involved in DCCK? Am I a positive addition to the organization? I’m still working on the first and the second I believe is, “yes.” I’m passionate about helping people, but I have no idea how to direct that passion. I’m slowly learning that while I love case management and social work, my skills may be underutilized and that’s a good realization. Two weeks ago I told my Mom, “I just can’t imagine sitting at a desk all day.” And believed it. In fact, two weeks ago, I looked down on those ‘desk-jockeys’ and wouldn’t have taken a job that involved the word ‘cubicle’ if James Earl Jones himself offered to follow me around and narrate my every move for the rest of my life (you would be appalled at how many birthday wishes I used on that one). But when I found myself typing away happily an hour past the end of my shift on a *Friday* I had to have a heart-to-heart with reality (in my best Mufasa voice of course).
I knew this internship was going to introduce me to many things beyond the realms of my past experiences, but I had no idea that I would be re-introduced to the parts of myself I thought I knew already. In the past few weeks many unexpected aspects of my personality have been shaken; such as my hatred of cubicles and my moral compass. Especially after I witnessed my fellow intern stealing, that shook me. After thinking and going over the tiny DCSI business card covered in the things I wouldn’t sacrifice for anyone, I know that next week I’m going to have to do something scary. I may have to alienate myself because I know, in my heart, that I can’t leave this organization knowing that that type of behavior is acceptable and I’m going to have to make a convincing argument that could change how they handle donations in the future. Basically, I’m happy and excited, but also, mixed up, turned around and confused, and I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why they call it orientation.
August 6, 2012 by Drew Stelljes
Guest blogger: Michelle Selim reflects on her summer in DC. Michelle was a part of the DC Summer Institute on Leadership and Community Engagement. The W&M Washington Office coordinates the Institutes.
This summer in Washington, DC has been a whirlwind of experiences with both highs and lows, but I don’t believe I could trade it for much else. My internship at a think-tank has allowed me to consider many of the latest ideas and theories of international development including foreign aid effectiveness, government contract, and private sector-led development. I have also had time to reflect on personal thoughts on life after William and Mary as this internship does provide a window into that world. Within this realm of thought, our class on leadership, personal development, and community engagement has also provided many ideas to chew on.
Over the past couple of months, I have done quite a bit of observing and watching the different dynamics of our office. My two supervisors are very personable and always make everything feel like a team effort. They both have their own leadership styles; one is more of a go-with-the-flow type of person, but always gives feedback on how everything is completed after assignments. The other has his own style of leadership being the quieter of the two. He is quite soft-spoken, but I can always count on him for a great discussion about current issues and world events. Andrew also knows how to lead by example, he stays late after everyone leaves and stays focused on his work and research.
I have also been able to discover my own leadership style which has been part of my journey of self-discovery and reflection. I like to have everything planned out with to-do lists, etc. to make sure things run smoothly. I found that I value emotional intelligence in a leader and I hope that I can develop this characteristic as well. Emotional intelligence draws on a person’s strong sense of empathy, motivation, self-regulation, self-awareness, and social skills. A key aspect of this is the ability of a leader to convey the sincerity and passion for their work, which translates into enthusiasm by others and a willingness to engage. The ability to empathize with others goes deeper than being able to relate to others, but emphasizes personal connections with people. To many in DC this has come to mean “networking,” however I have realized that it refers to relationships with others, not just happy hour mingling or exchanging business cards, but really getting to know people. Emotional intelligence also relies on self-regulation and self-awareness to make a good leader. Self-awareness refers to someone’s sense of strengths, weaknesses, direction, feelings, values, and objectives. Self awareness lends itself to help a person understand how to best merge their passions with their work, a concept we covered heavily in class. Professor Drew Stelljes stressed that there should not be a need for a work-life balance if you marry your interests and your career. Personally, I am still looking to reach this state of self-awareness and find the perfect combination of work and the social issues I am interested in.
July 25, 2012 by Drew Stelljes
Guest blogger: This blog is written by Stephanie Kumah, a recent graduate of William & Mary. It is cross-posted in Stephanie’s blog.
As summer draws to an end, I think it’s worth posting an update about what I have been up to. First, I “graduated”. Why is this surrounded in quotation marks? Well, while I walked in May, I extended my graduation date to August in order to participate in the W&M Summer Institute Program in Washington D.C. So, after walking on Sunday, I packed up my apartment and headed to D.C. for class the next day. You might think I’m crazy for leaving no real time for transition, but, in retrospect, those first few days were well worth the experiences that followed.
The course was taught by Professor Stelljes and focused on the concept of leadership within the nonprofit context. Throughout this course, we were able to meet and speak with leaders in the nonprofit world. After two weeks of site visits, lectures, and group discussions, we all began internships around the city. Over the course of my internship, I’ve been able to see the leadership we’ve talked about in practice. In addition to this, I’ve been able to speak with those around me about leadership: What characteristics are typical of effective leaders? Are leaders born or made? What do the best leaders have in common?
So, what have I learned? I’ve learned that the leaders often see the world in a way that many do not – full of possibilities and only limited by our own imaginations. Leaders share these visions and give others the confidence to aid in their efforts to reach a shared outcome. Leaders are not perfect, but they recognize the need to let others see their imperfections. Leaders empathize with others on a level that seems unimaginable. Leaders come in all shapes and sizes – the extrovert, the introvert, the charismatic, the shy. Being a leader is hard.
As the paragraph above might demonstrate, leadership cannot always be packed neatly into a paragraph. Leadership is multidimensional and multifaceted. Moreover, one’s ability to recognize effective leadership is often subjective. So, let me be slightly subjective for a second. What I have found is that the best leaders are those we might not necessarily associate with typical leadership qualities. Over the summer, I have been most impressed by the quiet leaders; those whose work behind the scenes ensure the success that we see. Often, these leaders shun credit, credit which is often owed. These leaders might not be the most eloquent speakers, but their passion speaks volumes. These are the leaders who have the most lasting effect on me.
As summer winds to an end, I’m very thankful for the experience I’ve had in D.C. I’ve learned more than I ever thought I would about leadership and the ways in which effective leadership can lead to amazing outcomes. This summer has reaffirmed my belief that W&M is a place where students are given the opportunity to grow into leaders who will go on to do great things in the world. I’m just glad that I got one last chance to hone my own skills.
July 25, 2012 by Drew Stelljes
Guest blogger: This blog comes from Sarah Rose Dorton. Sarah is enrolled in the DC Summer Institute on Leadership and Community Engagement.
This is a question that scholars, philosophers, sociologists, entrepreneurs, young professionals, and many others have been puzzling over for centuries. In the past people have believed in theories such as The Great Man theory—that people are born with specific qualities that make them capable of being a great leader. However, more recently, theories have been emerging which support the idea that leadership is a learned skill or skill set that can be developed in individuals. If I’ve learned anything this summer it’s that it’s a little bit of both.
I don’t think that there is any question that people are born with certain traits. Myers-Briggs tests and other evaluations help calculate and label these types of predispositions. For example, I am an introvert; I was born that way and I can never learn to be an extrovert. I can develop communication skills and maybe learn how to be outgoing in certain situations, but at the end of the day I will still be an introvert. Similarly there are people who are naturally “thinkers” and there are others who are “feelers”. Some people are born predisposed to making decisions based on feelings rather than thought out plans and vice versa. These are natural tendencies wired into the core of our being. There is a wide range and people can fall on extreme ends or closer to the middle, however these types of traits typically do not change as we grow. So – does that mean that leaders are born?
No. It is important to know that we are born with certain predispositions and it is important to know and understand what these tendencies are, but none of these inherited traits are limiting to leadership. The only limits to leadership are thinking that there is only one specific type of leader and not understanding your own predispositions and strengths and how you can utilize them for your own unique leadership style. Developing skills that compliment your natural traits will allow you to grow into your own specific leadership role. It will let you know how and when to step up into positions that best suit you. By developing skills and learning about yourself, others, and social and professional situations and environments, you enable and empower yourself to be a leader.
Every person is born with the potential to lead. Not everyone is born with the necessary traits to lead the nation, a company, or even an organization, but everyone has the potential to lead in some capacity and every type of leadership is special and important. Those who go on to become great leaders are people who take the time and opportunities presented to them to understand themselves and also to understand the needs of the people they work with. Great leadership takes time to develop, but it is possible for anyone willing to put in the effort.