Center for Social Concerns institute helps faculty integrate community engagement into scholarly portfolio

Author: John Guimond

Center for Social Concerns Community Engagement Faculty Institute

The second annual Center for Social Concerns Community Engagement Faculty Institute, held May 29 through May 31 (Wednesday through Friday) at the University of Notre Dame, was designed to help faculty deepen their understanding of the theory and practice of academic community engagement. Eighteen faculty and graduate students from numerous University organizations participated in the Faculty Institute. More than 40 campus and community experts presented over the three-day institute, augmenting daily readings on the scholarship of engagement, service learning, the pedagogy of reflective writing and community-based research.

“Last year there were more than 170 community-based learning courses offered across disciplines at Notre Dame, with more courses being added every year,” said Connie Snyder Mick, assistant director of the Center for Social Concerns and director for social concerns seminars and community-based learning. "Our continuing goal for the institute is to inform faculty on how to integrate community engagement into their scholarly portfolio. Academic community engagement draws on faculty’s existing expertise, but it also requires the additional knowledge and support the Center for Social Concerns has developed in its 30 years of connecting academic and community partners to impact positive social change.”

The three-day faculty institute was itself a model of engaged learning, featuring a mix of lectures by faculty and experts from several community partners on the theory and practice of community engagement, along with travel into the local community to learn with community partners who address a range of social concerns, such as poverty, health care and education.

Maria McKenna, assistant professional specialist in the Institute for Educational Initiatives and assistant professor of Africana Studies, said, “The Faculty Institute was a reminder of the abundance we are surrounded with at Notre Dame and in the local community. To learn that we have over 65 community partnerships, see so many wonderful community leaders in action on our immersion experiences, and hear from community members of all walks of life was thought-provoking and inspiring. The three days at the institute certainly challenged me to think hard about the connections we can make and facilitate for our students, community members and ourselves in our teaching and research practices. We are blessed to have so many community partners willing to welcome Notre Dame into their work. I am excited for the creative and innovative space that community-based learning embraces and encourages in faculty. The ‘blank slate’-required collaboration holds promise that I don’t even know yet. What a great space to teach and research in with others!”

According to Mick, the Center for Social Concerns focuses on sustainable engagement that helps student, faculty and community development. Building strong, reciprocal relationships is key to sustainable engagement. The institute is designed to foster campus-community partnerships through site visits to partner organizations and by welcoming community partners on campus to discuss their role in community-based learning. Faculty learned from community partners about the care they take in facilitating strong orientation, placement, supervision and reflection as students work at their organizations. Faculty and staff with expertise as theorists and practitioners of engaged teaching and research underscored the importance of intra-campus dialogue and partnerships.

Michelle V. Joyce, associate director of the Mass Spectrometry and Proteomics Facility, said, “It follows Notre Dame’s mission that the infrastructure to intellectually and logistically support community-based work exists on campus, but I had no idea of the many resources available until I participated in the Community Engagement Faculty Institute. The sessions presented practical advice on how to develop a community-based course, and the speakers gave testaments to the impact such courses have on the students and faculty involved, as well as the community partners. The institute had at its core a respect for the community agencies and their clients and a belief in the transformative power of community engagement across the disciplines. I left with many ideas on how to improve upon my students’ and my own experiences in my science CBL course and community projects.”

Mick said, “Our goal was to leave faculty feeling renewed and inspired in their teaching and research objectives even as they left with a concrete sense of the material and human resources that can sustain their engaged scholarship long after the Institute.”

Faculty and students who attended came from the Center for Social Concerns, the University Writing Program, the Kaneb Center for Teaching and Learning, the Spanish program and French and Francophone studies in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, First Year of Studies, Notre Dame extended Research Community, and the departments of Africana studies; chemistry and biochemistry; classics; education, schooling and society; English; physics; political science; psychology; peace studies; theology; and sociology.

For more information on the Faculty Institute, visit Faculty interested in joining the Institute next year should contact Mick at