“Encouraging an Ecosystem of Engagement”
Tuesday September 22, two visitors from Thailand, Mr. Danai Linjongrut and Mr. Teerapol Temudom visited NKU’s campus and met with the Executive Director of the Scripps Howard Center for Civic Engagement Mr. Mark Neikirk. Mr. Linjongrut and Mr. Teerapol came as a part of the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), the State Department’s premier professional exchange program, which seeks to build mutual understanding between the United States and other nations through carefully designed short-term visits to the United States for current and emerging foreign leaders. The overarching theme of Mr. Linjongrut and Mr. Temudom’s visit was “volunteerism in the U.S.,” while meeting with Mr. Neikirk was specifically focused on how NKU works to engage volunteers and how service learning is used to improve both NKU and the communities around it.
Mr. Neikirk explained how NKU works to foster an “ecosystem of engagement,” as well as how the university goes about this in two different ways. The first is encouraging an environment of engagement on campus. NKU seeks to accomplish this by inviting non-profits onto campus, where they can set up sign-up tables, hang up posters, collect money, etc. Making sure non-profits and volunteer opportunities remain a constant visual on the campus helps foster that “ecosystem of engagement.” On top of retaining visibility, Mr. Neikirk talked about the importance of non-profits developing relationships with student organizations (clubs, fraternities, sororities, etc.). Then these clubs and groups become an “ally” of the non-profits, helping in campus recruiting as well as engaging more students in creative ways.
The second way that NKU helps to foster an ecosystem of engagement is through service learning classes. This academic approach is “experiential learning,” where the focus of learning is not from a lecture, but learning from experiences and academic community engagement, which gets students out of the classroom to work with a member of the community. Service learning classes have a specific look to them, including a partnership component, civic component, teamwork component, and a reflection component. Mr. Neikirk described how these specific components offer professors a greater variety in teaching. These components also help students learn through experience as opposed to memorization as well as provide twenty-first century job skills in the form of real world problem solving. While being beneficial to the students and professors involved, the civic component guarantees the lessons learned/taught also help improve aspects of the communities they touch. Service learning classes are not just general electives; NKU offers them in every discipline at the school and include around 15 different classes a semester. NKU has offered service learning opportunities for over 15 years now, and might be the best known university in the nation for it, frequently giving workshops across the country and working with other local universities on techniques and implementation. The efforts in these two areas in encouraging an ecosystem of engagement on NKU’s campus and throughout their community has proven to be very successful.
Written by: Jacob Hamblin, GCWAC Global Exchange Intern Fall 2015 and Senior at University of Cincinnati, majoring in International Affairs.