Campus Community

Leading for Community, Leading for Change

Written by Andrew Binion

April 28, 2023

A photo of the exterior of the CCE.

Provost Fellows, with focus on Goal 1 of SU’s Reignited Strategic Directions, aim to strengthen student engagement in service with neighborhood partners.

While studying how to strengthen Seattle University students’ academically driven community-engaged learning projects, a group of scholars, community partners and other SU leaders struck upon two findings:

  • The onus to include community-engaged learning in coursework has typically fallen on individual faculty, leading to uneven involvement, with just two out of three SU students participating in a service-focused course; and 
  • A review of similar programs at other universities found a lack of focus on the outcomes for the communities where students serve. 

These challenges were brought to the foreground by the Provost Fellows Community-Engaged Learning Working Group, co-chaired by Kent Koth, executive director of the Sundborg Center for Community Engagement, focused on Goal 1 of Seattle University’s Reignited Strategic Directions, Reimagine and Revise the Curriculum

The Provost Fellows are a group of 33 select faculty leaders assigned to 10 working groups who are tasked with bringing their scholarly expertise to planning and implementing this transformational work. Associated Dean for Faculty Development & Justice Initiatives Charisse Cowan Pitre, PhD, also co-chairs the group, which includes Professor of Social Work Estella Williamson, DSW.

Community-engaged learning is an important part of the SU experience, as it aligns with our mission of empowering leaders for a more just and humane world. 

“That includes education justice or housing justice or health care justice and this is a terrific way of doing that,” says Koth. 

Community-engaged learning allows students to work with and learn from the community, says Provost Fellow Rebecca McNamara, PhD, an Assistant Clinical Professor at the Matteo Ricci Institute.

“It is a high-impact teaching practice that has been shown to increase students’ academic content learning, interpersonal skills such as communication and teamwork and their awareness of social issues and their root causes,” McNamara says. “Community-engaged learning enlivens the Jesuit mission of Seattle University. Through experience and reflection, students are moved to act on causes and issues that are important to them and to our society.”

In addition to the challenges identified, the working group is proposing a path forward to ensure all SU students have a chance to put their scholarship to work by increasing community-engaged learning participation to 100 percent and making sure that our partners see a real and lasting benefit to collaborating with the university.  

“If the community is not finding they benefit from partnering with us, at some point they might say they are not going to partner with us anymore and we are not going to have any more community-engaged learning,” Koth notes.

The goal of increasing student participation meshes with the objective to create sustained and measurable benefits to community partners, Koth says. For the purposes of their efforts the working group teamed up with neighborhood partners the Black Farmers Collective, Seattle Public Schools and the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation & Development Authority.

Outcomes for students include developing an understanding of racially, culturally and socioeconomically diverse communities, demonstrating cultural humility through reciprocal engagement and critical reflection and applying their coursework in a way that finds equitable solutions to issues facing communities that have experienced social injustice. 

Currently, the group is working on its proposed plan, recommending that all students participate or have access to a course that includes community-engaged learning. That would include finding options for how departments can integrate this into their programs each quarter by making long-term commitments to one or more community organizations.

A finalized timeline for implementing the plan is expected later this spring with a pilot program beginning over the summer.