First Language Users

Over the past two weeks I represented Service Year Alliance at two of Campus Compact’s Civic Action Planning Institutes. One of the best parts of my job is visiting different campuses. The University of Missouri-St. Louis and the University of San Diego hosted us and while in St. Louis I took the time to visit St. Louis University and Washington University-St. Louis.

St. Louis University

I met individuals from all across the mid-west and the west cost, and a few folks who travelled longer distances from Virginia and Hawaii. Each participating campus brought a team to the institute, primarily made of a senior academic officer and a faculty or staff member directly responsible for civic learning and engagement. I also had the opportunity to present on how service can foster long-term democratic engagement in our students. This comes at a critical time when many of our young people feel disenfranchised by the current political environment. We need more ideas on how to keep students engaged and in particular, what we’ll do after the election.

Through my work in Virginia and in conversations I’ve had during Campus Compact gatherings, there’s a central theme, one that our “Compact Prez” introduced – first language users and second language users when it comes to our work. Unlike second language users, first language users can speak organically about community and civic engagement. It comes from a place of experience and a desire to engage our community partners as co-educators. They utilize an asset-based approach.

As individuals trying to advance this work, we want our presidents and provosts to be first language users. I’m lucky to be surrounded by several first language users. In fact, I’ve said numerous times that I didn’t realize college presidents could speak about our work in the way that they do. They are generous with their time, their contacts, their expertise, and they engage with the community both on campus and off.

Sometimes we don’t have the luxury of being surrounded by and reporting to such individuals and it makes our jobs that much harder. Regardless, we need clear learning outcomes, assessment measures that accurately tell the story of impact, and opportunities to speak to one another. When we do have first language users, we need to share our fortune with others. Find opportunities to recognize their contributions and to speak to second language users. I’ll bet they’ll take you up on as many offers as they can. This is how we change the culture and recommit to the public purposes of higher ed. And if that is something you’re passionate about, head on over to Campus Compact and make sure your president or chancellor has signed the 30th Anniversary Action Statement.

University of San Diego

Moving to Virginia

Later this month I will become a resident of Alexandria, Virginia. I have the opportunity to live with one of my dear friends (and her dog), the chance to get to know a new community, and a little more space for all the Kate Spade dresses I’ve collected. Though I will miss the ease of being able to walk everywhere in DC, I’ve gotten to know parts of the Commonwealth quite well through my job – I’m glad that soon I’ll be able to call it home.

Over the past three years, and with support of the Governor and First Lady of Virginia, higher education leaders are working together to make a service year part of what it means to participate in higher education in Virginia. I’ve had the chance to work closely with several higher ed leaders in these efforts. Working closely with college presidents was not what I thought I’d be doing at this point in my career, and I am so grateful to be able to learn from them on a daily basis. I look forward to sharing more of my leanings in other posts.

Our most recent event took place at Averett University in Danville, VA. And making the drive from DC to Danville reminded me how large and diverse Virginia is. The students served by each college and university are unique, as are the challenges faced by their communities. Averett University is a leader in advancing service year opportunities for their students, including becoming the first higher education institution to become an Employer of National Service and connecting service year opportunities to academic credit.

During this event I had the opportunity to hear from my friend and colleague Andrew Seligsohn, President of Campus Compact. I also sat on a panel discussing service years in higher ed and presented a monetary award to a promising program at a community college. As is always the case at gatherings like this, I left energized and hopeful. It is an exciting time to live in Virginia and to be a part of higher education in the commonwealth.

Merging my love of fashion with higher ed, here’s my friend Alexis and me in our Kate Spade coats. She leads engagement at Averett University.