Regents hear about civic engagement at UM-Dearborn

The Board of Regents learned about UM-Dearborn's "civic engagement project" in a presentation at its meeting Thursday on the Dearborn campus.

"Our goal is to provide an academic complement to civic engagement on campus through academic service-learning courses and other faculty initiatives," says Troy Murphy, associate professor of communication at UM-Dearborn. "We are working to nurture practical action in the community while fostering critical thinking around citizenship, democracy and civic engagement."

"We believe that civic engagement is an integral part of the learning experience," he says. "While many people confuse service-learning as simply a different name for traditional volunteer activities, it really is a form of experiential education that uses community-based activities as a means of enhancing academic learning."

Civic-engagement efforts at the Dearborn campus have grown significantly since an audit of initiatives was conducted early in 2006. Since that time, there have been 16 new courses developed through a faculty-development program in service-learning, representing 13 disciplines and three academic units on the campus. Students and faculty in those courses have engaged with approximately 25 community partners in metropolitan Detroit during the last academic year.

"We expect more than 500 students will enroll in these new academic service-learning courses in the coming year, and more faculty members are set to participate in the development program," Murphy says. "The program is growing exponentially."

Murphy cites several examples from various disciplines. Students in an organizational behavior class, for example, are working with community groups Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit, Alternatives for Girls, Friends of the Rouge and Young Detroit Builders on issues in organizational culture, leadership, and employee and volunteer motivation.

In a composition class, "Writing for Civic Literacy," students worked with St. Peter's Home for Boys, the Neighborhood Service Organization and the Homeless Action Network of Detroit in a study of "rhetorical awareness, audience analysis, and writing genres."

One group of students planned a town-hall forum at St. Peter's where foster-care providers met with representatives from state government to brainstorm better ways for the public and private sectors to communicate and interact with each other and with legislators about foster-care issues.

In another project, students surveyed businesses in several Detroit neighborhoods to find out the degree of contact those businesses had with homeless people, in preparation for the 2010 Census.

Murphy cited other examples including courses titled "Apathy 2 Action: American Citizenship," "Family/School/Community Collaboration in a Multicultural Society" and "Poverty and Inequality."