UNL offers Civic Engagement certification
Students helping out at UNL’s Center for Civic Engagement, Union room 222.
Story and photos by: Katie Walter, NewsNetNebraska
University of Nebraska Junior business major Torre Lespreance volunteers regularly with the Humane Society, Bryan LGH, and other organizations. Most recently she was helping the People’s City Mission set up for their annual Starry Nights Gala at the Lincoln Station.
Lespreance is just one of many students who believe that volunteering and other forms of civic engagement are important, and they are not alone.
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln agrees. This fall, the new Center for Civic Engagement opened, calling home room 222 in the Union.
According to Linda Major, assistant to the Vice Chancellor and Student Involvement director, the center is set up to help students get involved and connect with volunteering opportunities and service learning experiences.
Part of this includes providing faculty professional development so they can promote service learning within the community. The Center also works with community partners to make the experience co-educational.
Student Involvement Director Linda Major says the Center for Civic Engagement is happening at the right time.
Need for involvement
Major sees a generational shift where more young people are seeking the kinds of opportunities the Center for Civic Engagement provides. She says there’s a different attitude current students are bringing to campus.
Center for Civic engagement comes out at, “The right time and the right place to where many students are at. There’s a desire and a passion to make a difference in the world.” Major said.
What they want to do is give students the knowledge and the experience to make that process happen.
“We’re seeing things like Occupy Wall Street, as a movement where young people are finding their voice.”
Major said that even if the focus isn’t completely coherent with movements like Occupy Wall Street, she thinks it’s great that young people are getting involved.
“I’m very intrigued with the whole process (of Occupy Wall Street)” Major said.
Examples of student volunteering
Service volunteering is what most people are familiar with. It is used to satisfy hour requirements due to a membership obligation, but some people do it as part of their normal routine.
Volunteers at the Lincoln Station help set up the annual Starry Nights Gala at the Lincoln Station.
The People’s City Mission is one hot spot for service volunteering. Director Lisa McClung says that in order to accomplish all they want to, they need volunteers, and students make up a large part of that.
“We’ve had students come and volunteer for us for whatever reason, and actually go on to intern and work for us in some cases.” McClung said.
McClung sees a trend where more students are getting involved. She says that allows students life lessons that a classroom might not be able to teach.
Junior business major Torre Lespreance says volunteering is part of who she is. While she uses some of the hours to satisfy requirements for her business fraternity Phi Beta Lamda, she enjoys doing it.
“To me, volunteering just makes me feel like I’m actually doing something, It makes me feel good. I try to incorporate it into my life as much as I can.” Lespreance said.
Lespreance was one of many volunteering at the set up for the People’s City Mission annual Christmas Gala, which was held on December 4 at the Lincoln Station Great Hall.
Sixty percent of UNL students report they have volunteered in the last year.
Major she says that while some of this statistic might have been due to requirements as part of membership, there are a number of students that are seeking out opportunities to volunteer. Even though there still are competing interests.
“Students at UNL work a lot and some students need to have a little bit of a nudge so they can get an experience volunteering or civic engagement offers. Once they get their toe in the water, they go on.” Major said.
The Center for Civic Engagement’s slogan is, “Seeing the world as something larger than yourself.” It was created by a student in a focus group.
“We’re in a time where people are tired of the “what about me” attitude and they want to see others help out for the overall good.”
Research conducted by psychologist Dr. Marlone Henderson suggests that, “People who see the “glass as half empty” may be more willing to contribute to a common goal if they already identify with it.”
Adding to that idea, Major says we’re also in place where we are recognizing unethical behavior and have started to see character as a forgotten art. She says the administration is trying to find a way to reinforce personal and social responsibility.
Major emphasizes civic learning can allow students the opportunity to become better educated citizens and able to participate in the democratic process more efficiently.
The Center for Civic Engagement goal is to connect education to civic service so it is introducing a Civic Engagement Certificate. It is due to premiere in the spring 2012 semester.
The certificate was created to allow students to become more active citizens, as well as making students more competitive for graduate school entry and employment.
“[The Certificate] is tailored to you. Soon some UNL classes will have a “Civic Engagement” symbol next to them in course listings that mean they will count towards the Civic Engagement certificate.” Major said
It’s possible for students to complete classes for their degree while earning credit towards the certificate.
The Center wanted to create is a process that would allow students to get credit for the certificate while they’re doing their own coursework. Careful selection of courses, accompanied with co-curricular civic plan is now what the certificate will comprise of.
“We’re on the leading edge where a lot of institutions are going across the nation.” Major added.
“The whole point is to give students the skills, knowledge, and experience to be good citizen leaders and good professionals on the other side of graduation. We want to show that these two concepts aren’t mutual exclusive.” said Major
There was a small change to the requirements of the certificate, causing the delay of the program.
It’s still waiting for voting, but the final outline has been approved by the Board of Regents. They are recruiting for the first cohort right now, and they will start the two year plan in the spring.
Lespreance says that she could see many people getting involved in the Civic Engagement Certificate program.
“I’ve seen students go on to do great things within their own civic engagement after they volunteer or do something even once. People just need a push, and they see they can make a difference in others and in themselves.”
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