Creating Cohesive Paths to Civic Engagement: Five Approaches to Institutionalizing Civic Engagement

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By Garret S. Batten, Adrienne Falcón, Jan R. Liss & Arielle del Rosario | As colleges and universities prioritize civic engagement in the curriculum, there is a need for coherent program design and the diffusion of civic engagement practices throughout the undergraduate experience. The authors suggest that curricular mapping is a powerful catalyst for institutionalizing these practices on campus that can be undertaken with limited resources. Project Pericles launched an initiative to assess and promote the institutionalization of civic engagement and social responsibility in higher education. Analyzing the responses of 26 campuses to an inventory designed by Project Pericles, the authors identify five types of program organization that campuses may consider as they seek to strengthen their community engaged efforts: civic engagement and social responsibility (CESR) requirements, Civic Scholars programs, pathways approaches, certificates, and entrepreneurial/open-choice models. The authors also argue for sustained analysis, sharing across campuses, and ongoing support for the implementation of improvements through a process of mapping the curriculum.

Author Note

Garret S. Batten, Project Pericles; Adrienne Falcón, Department of Public and Non-Profit Leadership, Metropolitan State University; Jan R. Liss, Project Pericles; Arielle del Rosario, Project Pericles.

The authors are are grateful to the Eugene M. Lang Foundation and The Teagle Foundation for their support of “Creating Cohesive Paths to Civic Engagement”; to the Rockefeller Brothers Fund for hosting the July 2014 convening at The Pocantico Center of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund[1]; and to the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) for hosting the January 2016 convening. We also give special thanks to Barbara Holland and Ariane Liazos.

Correspondence regarding this article should be addressed to Garret S. Batten, Assistant Director, Project Pericles, 551 Fifth Avenue, Suite 1910, New York, NY 10176-0899. Phone: (212) 986-4496. E-mail:

Creating Cohesive Paths to Civic Engagement: Five Approaches to Institutionalizing Civic Engagement

Civic engagement in higher education has taken on new urgency in recent decades (Global University Network for Innovation, 2008, 2014; Stanton, Giles, & Cruz, 1999; Tapia, 2012). The nation’s future depends on ensuring that all students have the dispositions, habits, and skills needed to apply academic knowledge to real-world problems in ways that are ethical, meaningful, thoughtful, and sustainable throughout their lifetimes. While early literature in the field described how to initiate civic engagement programs, courses, and projects that engage with the community, many scholars, in response to this new urgency, have increasingly focused their research on the effects of participating in community-engaged efforts on students, faculty, and community partners (Cress, Collier, Reitenauer, & Associates, 2013; Jacoby & Associates, 1996, 2014).

A movement that started with individual practitioners on particular campuses has swelled to create a new field of study and practice with the potential to transform higher education in the United States. Entire journals, such as the Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning and the International Journal of Research on Service-Learning and Community Engagement, have contributed to the field’s development. However, one of the notable challenges in the field relates to the naming of its practices. As Mooney and Edwards (2001) described, there are multiple terms for describing these practices—for instance, community-engaged learning, service-learning, and even experiential learning—each possessing a slightly different meaning. For the purposes of this article, we use the term civic engagement. With the significant growth in and of this field, many leaders have discussed how best to support and sustain civic engagement efforts and have called for the institutionalization of associated practices (Furco & Holland, 2009; Holland, 2014). By “institutionalization,” they mean that civic engagement efforts should move from the periphery to the core of the institution’s purpose, as reflected in “mission, promotion, tenure, hiring; organization structure; student involvement; faculty involvement; community involvement; and campus publications” (Holland, 2009, pp. 85-98).

Over time, various tools have been developed to support colleges and universities seeking to institutionalize civic engagement work, including the Holland (1997) matrix, the Furco (2002) rubric, and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching’s Curricular Engagement and Outreach and Partnerships Classification (Carnegie Foundation, n.d.). Holland (2014) provided a comprehensive analysis of efforts centering on “documenting, evaluating, and measuring the impacts of an institution’s civic agenda” (p. 19-20). The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U; 2009) created a series of rubrics for examining and evaluating civic engagement and social responsibility projects; these have been further developed by the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education (2016) with two new rubrics on civic knowledge and civic values. Carnegie, through its revised Community Engagement Classification, has developed a tool for assessing the institutionalization of civic engagement efforts (Driscoll, 2014; Holland, 2009). All of these national developments in the field have provided materials for other projects to build upon as they develop their own civic engagement tools.

Project Pericles is a not-for-profit organization that encourages and facilitates commitments by colleges and universities to include and promote social responsibility and participatory citizenship as essential elements of their educational programs (Project Pericles, 2018). Individually, collectively, and institutionally, these programs involve students, faculty, administrators, staff, trustees, alumni, and community members in a growing range of socially oriented enterprises and collaborations.

Since its founding in 2001, Project Pericles has witnessed the transformative effects that incorporating civic engagement initiatives into the curriculum have had at all levels of its member institutions— on students, faculty, administrators, staff, alumni, and community members. In its recent initiative “Creating Cohesive Paths to Civic Engagement,” Project Pericles expanded its focus beyond individual courses and individual faculty leaders to also examine questions about how civic engagement is integrated and structured across the curriculum and in the community. Creating Cohesive Paths was a three-year project designed to reimagine the organization and integration of civic engagement across the undergraduate experience. On 26 participating campuses, teams inventoried, mapped, strengthened, and developed more cohesive curricular and co-curricular programs incorporating civic engagement.

Many of the ideas presented here were first developed in the white paper Creating Cohesive Paths to Civic Engagement: Five Approaches to Institutionalizing Civic Engagement (Batten, Falcón, & Liss, 2017). Based on the review of detailed inventories conducted on the 26 campuses, the authors of this article propose a typology of different approaches to organizing this work. From our analysis, we offer a combination of model development and issues to consider in designing and structuring curricular and co-curricular programs for civic engagement and social responsibility (CESR) at the undergraduate level. In so doing, we aim to bridge earlier forms of scholarship on models with current forms of research on program effects. Project Pericles is uniquely positioned to accomplish this goal as it is a strong network of colleges and universities that have institutionally committed to CESR at the highest organizational levels (i.e., president, provost, and board of trustees). In this article, we also discuss curricular mapping as a powerful catalyst for institutionalizing civic engagement that can be undertaken with limited resources across a variety of campuses.

A Note on Terminology

We use the term civic engagement and social responsibility (CESR) in our work; however, in this article, we frequently abbreviate the term to civic engagement. For some Periclean campuses, CESR is synonymous with civic or community engagement; others use a broader definition that includes social responsibility or social justice. In almost all the cases we describe here, civic engagement includes some community-based activity, whether in the college community or the local community. In general, as an organization with a diverse membership, Project Pericles uses broad and inclusive formulations, recognizing that each campus defines, understands, and implements these terms in its own way. We acknowledge that civic engagement and community-based are not synonymous. However, in the context of the work described here, there is significant overlap, and it is not within the scope of this article to examine the differences.

Creating Cohesive Paths to Civic Engagement: Project Overview and Goals

With support from the Eugene M. Lang Foundation and The Teagle Foundation, work commenced on the Creating Cohesive Paths project in 2013. The initial goal was to gain an accurate picture of how civic engagement programs were organized on the participating campuses as a prerequisite for discussions about how each institution might want to shape its programs. All of Project Pericles’ members (29 at the time) were invited to participate, and 26 chose to do so, receiving small stipends for their involvement. The 26 participating institutions were: Allegheny College, Bates College, Berea College, Bethune-Cookman University, Carleton College, Chatham University, Dillard University, Drew University, Elon University, Goucher College, Hampshire College, Hendrix College, Macalester College, New England College, The New School, Occidental College, Pace University, Pitzer College, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Rhodes College, St. Mary’s College of Maryland, Swarthmore College, Ursinus College, Wagner College, Widener University, and The College of Wooster.

Using a survey instrument developed by Project Pericles and Barbara Holland, the participating colleges and universities conducted inventories of all curricular, co-curricular, and extracurricular opportunities that incorporated civic engagement on their campuses and in their communities. After the data were submitted, Project Pericles staff prepared a preliminary analysis of the material, which they shared with campus leaders in preparation for a three-day retreat. At the retreat, participants discussed how the inventory findings could be used to strengthen existing programs, provide greater coherence, and develop additional offerings. Each campus also began to develop an action plan for implementing changes and strengthening the organization and structure of its civic engagement programming.

In addition to understanding the state of civic engagement programs on campuses, Project Pericles sought, through this initiative, to expand, integrate, promote, and strengthen civic engagement opportunities and programs for students on participating campuses. By asking each campus to draft an action plan, Project Pericles set out to apply knowledge gained from mapping the curriculum to further enhance existing CESR programming, develop new courses and opportunities that addressed gaps, and ensure that sequences of courses had clear learning outcomes that built upon and supported one another.

Project Pericles also sought to improve and institutionalize communications and structures of support for civic engagement by creating clear avenues for students to integrate CESR into their courses of study. This included certificate programs, formal minors, introductory seminars, concluding capstone seminars, thematic pathways with links to courses and co-curricular activities, and programs of study for majors across all disciplines. These new avenues organized civic engagement opportunities into more coherent programs of study and enhanced their visibility to make civic engagement more accessible to students. They also provided a framework for faculty members in a wide range of disciplines to better understand the connections between their own classes and work and other civic engagement opportunities on campus and in the community. Finally, the project sought to encourage campuses to improve communication around civic engagement with faculty and advisors as a way of increasing student knowledge and participation.

Team-Based Inventory Process, Data Gathering, and Review

The questions that guided the project included: Were there common threads in the organization of civic engagement programs? Could one even talk about curricular programs, or were they really individual courses? Were there programs, courses, and areas of expertise that were known within departments or divisions but not widely recognized across the campus? What was the role of civic engagement centers on the campuses? What impact did those centers have on the campuses and on the organization of programming?

Project Pericles promoted a team-based data-gathering process. Recognizing the unique culture of each campus, Project Pericles asked each institution to develop its own team, which included different combinations of representatives from civic engagement programs and centers, faculty, students, student life or other co-curricular arenas, institutional research, and community partners. Teams ranged from a few Project Pericles program directors on some campuses to more than 15 faculty members and administrators, including deans and department chairs. Through the team-based process, campus civic engagement leaders became aware of new forms of civic engagement programs and actions on their campuses. Furthermore, individuals from civic engagement centers and programs built new relationships with other institutional agents, such as institutional research, which led to additional opportunities to strengthen the coherence and logic of courses and programs.

The goal of the inventory process was to gather from the participating colleges and universities as much information as possible about their organization of CESR courses and programs. The Creating Cohesive Paths inventory asked teams on each campus to consider as CESR any course incorporating a combination of specific learning outcomes and teaching strategies associated with civic engagement. Both the learning outcomes and teaching strategies are detailed in the Civic Engagement in the Classroom white paper and emerged from an analysis of more than 50 courses in Project Pericles’ Civic Engagement Course (CEC) Program™ and interviews with faculty members (Liazos & Liss, 2009). Institutions were asked to include courses and programs that incorporated the following CESR learning outcomes:

  1. Ability to recognize and view issues of social concern from multiple perspectives and to formulate and express an informed opinion on these issues.
  2. Ability to relate academic materials to their practical applications regarding issues of social concern.
  3. Motivation and capacity to utilize these abilities to take action in the community. (Liazos & Liss, 2009, p. 6-8).

The inventory comprised 17 questions about the scope and organization of CESR activities on campus and in the community (Batten et al., 2017). These included questions about the organization, coordination, and management of CESR, strategies for integrating CESR into the curriculum (e.g., first-year seminars), and any specialized programs such as certificates. It also asked questions about learning goals and institutional commitments to CESR, as well as open-ended questions about promising approaches and practices. This article is based upon four sources of material: the inventory data, observations from participants (including three of the authors), grant reports, and a series of semi-structured interviews conducted toward the end of the initiative in preparation for a white paper (Batten et al., 2017). In reviewing the material, we paid particular attention to commonalities and differences in the ways CESR was integrated into the curriculum as well as promising and emerging practices.

Results from the Inventory Process

All of the campuses that participated in the Creating Cohesive Paths project have a commitment to CESR, though their implementation of this commitment varies. On some campuses, a number of entrepreneurial professors have designed an array of stand-alone courses incorporating CESR, while other campuses have developed structured, multi-year CESR programs. Through our analysis, we identified five ideal approaches to integrating CESR into the curriculum: CESR requirements, Civic Scholars programs, pathways approaches, certificates, and entrepreneurial/open-choice models.

We selected a few cases to illustrate the five approaches to organizing courses and activities and to highlight context-specific concepts. These are proposed as ideal types rather than as prescriptive models to implement. Although Project Pericles brings together diverse colleges and universities, we recognize that each campus has a unique culture, student body, and faculty, and thus will have its own connection to these five models.

Approach One: CESR as a Requirement—Achieving Breadth

Incorporating a CESR requirement into a college or university’s general education or distribution requirements is an effective means of ensuring broad exposure and participation. This approach achieves greater breadth in terms of reaching students than most other approaches. Integration into these larger institutional frameworks guarantees that all students will incorporate at least some CESR work into their college learning. Based on our review of campus inventories and reports, as well as interviews with Project Pericles program directors on participating campuses, it is clear that implementing a CESR requirement necessitates a sustained faculty commitment to integrating CESR goals into courses and an institutional commitment to providing sufficient resources. We found that CESR requirements vary, with some colleges and universities utilizing a general distribution requirement, others requiring a specific first-year course, and still others mandating a sequence of courses. This model necessitates a system for tracking and recording student enrollment in CESR courses.

When Pitzer College started the mapping process, the campus already had a general CESR requirement in place that could be fulfilled with “one full-credit course that involved either community service, community-based fieldwork, or a community-based internship” (Pitzer College, 2013, p. 4). There were 31 CESR courses offered across 11 departments, including two first-year seminars. Other academic options included an independent study or a study-abroad program involving a community-based internship or community service. Pitzer described these as social responsibility courses and left their designation largely to the discretion of individual faculty members.

As part of an ongoing strategic plan, Pitzer revised its requirement after the mapping process, replacing the one-course social responsibility graduation requirement with a two-course social justice requirement. The new requirement includes both a social justice theory course and a social responsibility praxis course, as well as revised learning outcomes and criteria for each course. The college coupled its course requirements with “a systematic college-wide process for programmatic assessment of student learning outcomes” (Pitzer College, 2013, p. 7). The new requirement “adds rigor and structure to the ways in which we fulfill our stated commitment to social responsibility, community engagement, and intercultural understanding” (p. 2).

Many campuses have adopted or are moving toward a system in which faculty members submit their courses for review prior to receiving a CESR designation—a process detailed in Jacoby’s (2015) Service Learning Essentials. Participating Project Pericles campuses found that a review process is preferable as it offers assurances about quality, learning goals, ethics, and outcomes. In their discussion of the new requirement, the Pitzer team members specifically mentioned moving away from a system in which faculty designate their own courses. The participating campus leaders found that, in order to ensure consistency and quality, it was preferable that CESR course designations be made through an institutionalized process with guidelines, rather than on an ad hoc basis by faculty members teaching CESR courses because that gave them greater academic credibility on campus. Based on our interviews and conversations with participating campuses, we recommend that any review process be established with clear criteria and that the review be carried out by a civic engagement committee or a related curriculum committee. According to Strait (2009), “faculty … adopt … pedagogy more readily when it is found under the academic affairs umbrella” (p. 11).

Participating campus leaders shared that requiring a sequence of two or more courses was likely to foster a richer learning experience. Reflecting general recommendations in the civic engagement/service-learning field for preparation (Erickson, 2009), campus leaders felt that multi-course sequences gave students more time to reflect before and after their community-based experience and that students needed time prior to the experience to reflect on their positionality and to think about the intersections between academic and community/local knowledge. Participants also identified a side benefit of course sequencing: By requiring a sequence of two or more courses, the institution signals to faculty and students that it takes CESR seriously and is willing to devote significant resources to implementation.

Hendrix College developed sequential programs that begin in the first year of study and span multiple years (Hendrix College, 2013). Hendrix has a required first-year seminar, “The Engaged Citizen,” in which students apply academic course content to understanding current social and political issues and community engagement. Students go on to the Odyssey Program, which is designed to promote active learning (Hendrix College, n.d.). Prior to graduation, students are required to complete three Odyssey experiences from six different categories: artistic creativity, global awareness, professional and leadership development, service to the world, undergraduate research, and special projects.

If a campus is considering revising or implementing new requirements, it is worth considering the institution’s ability to deliver appropriate courses and the community partners’ capacity to work with and benefit from additional students. Faculty development workshops are helpful and will likely be needed to populate new requirements with courses. For example, the Pitzer team offered a series of workshops in preparation for the new requirement and conducted outreach to encourage STEM faculty members to offer courses that would fulfill the requirement.

The benefits of a CESR requirement approach ensure success when required activities and classes are of the highest quality and rigor. Students may perceive formal requirements as a hurdle and, without sufficient cognitive challenge, may not gain the deep learning the requirement is meant to deliver. While a commitment to a requirement is effective and efficient, it must be grounded in rigorous design and delivery and supported by institutional infrastructure (Jacoby, 2015).

Approach Two: Intensive Programs—Civic Scholars—Models to Promote Depth

Civic Scholars programs offer an intensive program for select cohorts of students. The Bonner Program is a recognized national model of this kind (Corella and Bertram F. Bonner Foundation, n.d.). Bonner scholars apply to join a cohort and receive need-based scholarships for their demonstrated record of and commitment to community service. While the Bonner model incorporates course and policy work, Bonner cohorts focus on the co-curricular, whereas the Periclean model (explored here) emphasizes coursework as a central component of the cohort experience. The design of the Periclean colleges’ Civic Scholars model commonly employs a group project that focuses the work and activity for each new entering cohort. This cohort approach, with shared coursework and projects undertaken as a group, differentiates the Civic Scholars model from other CESR models and approaches. While other researchers have examined formal certifications, majors, and minors (Butin & Seider, 2012), our review of campus reports of forms of civic engagement suggests that this model is different from others.

Elon University has the longest standing and most highly developed scholars programs among Periclean schools. Started in 2003, Elon’s Periclean Scholars program is a

multidisciplinary service and engaged learning academic program that recruits select current first-year students who demonstrate a clear interest in and an ability to make a long-term commitment under the mentorship of a faculty person who guides them through their three years as a Periclean Scholar. (Elon University, 2013, p. 21). Starting in the second year, a cohort of approximately 30 Periclean Scholars takes a credit-bearing seminar each semester. As a group, the scholars develop a service project. Many seminars focus on developing the service project, which the cohort implements through a January term travel course to the region of study. Cohorts have undertaken travel to local and international destinations (e.g., Appalachia, Ghana, Haiti, and Sri Lanka), and projects have centered on topics such as environmental education, malnutrition, and rural development.

Specialized programs offer a select group of students a highly focused CESR experience over the span of their college experience. From a design perspective, the programs offer a series of sequential courses in which students build competencies while also engaging in group community-based learning/service projects. In addition to the CESR exposure, students gain experience designing, organizing, and managing extensive group projects. The Civic Scholars model offers promise for depth of experience for the students and incorporates high-impact practices identified by AAC&U (Kuh, 2008); however, it is often resource intensive, requires more faculty and staff commitment, and serves fewer students.

Civic Scholars programs, with their long-term projects, offer unique opportunities for students to develop the ability to work effectively with others and to practice leadership skills. Students also work over an extended period of time on tangible projects that allow them to demonstrate their problem-solving skills to employers. When campuses with these kinds of programs shared their experiences, leaders from other campuses indicated interest in this model. As a result, we (along with the participants) concluded during the project that this aspect of CESR deserves more attention, especially as an example of how liberal arts institutions can emphasize the effectiveness of such programs in enhancing career readiness.

Approach Three: CESR Pathways—Choice and Visibility

Some institutions are exploring pathways models for organizing CESR activities for students, faculty, and community partners. Pathways can be collections of courses and co-curricular opportunities on particular topics that a civic engagement center catalogs, or they can comprise a series of sequential courses with cumulative learning goals and integrated co-curricular offerings (Batten et al., 2017). Pathways are typically organized around issues or themes such as education/access, food/sustainability, health, and human rights and humanitarianism. By design, they are interdisciplinary in nature, bridging departmental silos and helping students learn different perspectives on important issues (Carleton College, 2017; Macalester College, 2019). Pathways models can help campus CESR development in a variety of ways, serving as a means for a college to make its commitment to community engagement visible to students, helping faculty understand how their courses may be linked with other courses, and providing a vehicle for campus partners to come together.

Carleton College and Macalester College are currently offering and developing additional pathways. Carleton has developed a series of pathways with faculty and community partners “to build organically on identified student passions and connect them with internship and career exploration opportunities” (Carleton College, 2013, p. 21). Staff members from the Carleton Center for Community and Civic Engagement conceptualize CESR development on three levels: the institutional level, where the pathways model is utilized as a method for organizing work; the issue level, where different stakeholders (e.g., faculty, community partners, students) are pulled together based on shared concerns; and the student level, where meaningful CESR opportunities are made available and visible to all students (Carleton College, 2013). The second and third levels emphasize the degree to which pathways provide an opportunity to cross multiple boundaries—interpersonal, between departments, and between the campus and the community.

Macalester’s approach comprises academic concentrations that “offer coherent pathways for students to fulfill general education and major requirements around a central set of inquiries or interdisciplinary areas of study” (Macalester College, 2013, p. 7). Internationalism and civic engagement are core values of a Macalester education; thus, study away/abroad is another element that Macalester builds into its pathways. At Macalester, pathways are noted on student transcripts, and in this way, the model can be seen as what Butin and Seider (2012) described as a new form of institutionalization of the field whereby majors, minors, and certificates are increasingly being developed.

Pathways are an excellent place to start if an institution is interested in strengthening students’ CESR opportunities. Since they may initially rely on existing resources, pathways can be organized relatively quickly. Depending on the institution, the approval process is likely to be less onerous compared to a certificate or minor. One way to start is by researching what topics or issues interest students, faculty, and community members. A review of courses, co-curricular and extracurricular activities, and college-community partnerships relevant to the topic should be carried out to determine if there are enough resources already available to offer a pathway. The next step is to pull together opportunities and present them in a way that is visible and accessible to students. Adding coherence to what is already available makes the offerings more accessible.

Significantly, developing a successful pathway involves bringing together existing constituencies for collaboration such as community partners or faculty members who have an interest in linking their work with the pathway. While pathways can play to existing strengths or existing interests among students and/or faculty, the model is flexible and the threshold for establishing a themed pathway is fairly low, perhaps only a few courses and co-curricular or extracurricular opportunities. With this scaffolding in place, additional components can be added or developed.

Approach Four: Certificates—Offering Recognition

Butin and Seider (2012) addressed the need for programmatic forms for civically engaged higher education institutions: “Without ‘academic homes’ such as … certificates, minors, and majors … it becomes difficult to develop and sustain safe spaces for critical reflection and action over extended periods of time” (p. 6). Occidental College is creating such an academic “home” through certificate programs that highlight civic engagement opportunities and recognize the commitment and work of students. Occidental’s Partnership for Community Engagement (PCE)—a joint project of the Center for Community Based Learning, the Office of Community Engagement, and the Urban and Environmental Policy Institute—developed a “Civic and Community Engagement” certificate:

The development of this certificate program was grounded by the prior work done by the PCE in the Project Pericles mapping exercise.… The mapping exercise helped to establish collaborative efforts between the three offices of the PCE by highlighting the intersection among the curricular and co-curricular community engagement efforts. (Occidental College, 2015, p. 1)

In the first year, the PCE convened advisory groups of faculty, community partners, and students, implementing the certificate model early in the second year.

Certificates offer a format that is familiar to faculty and students alike, but establishing a certificate program is a more complex and involved undertaking than establishing a pathway. Certificates inhabit a middle ground between pathways and minors/requirements. Before launching a certificate program, faculty and staff must agree on and codify criteria for earning the certificate. In most cases, the proposed certificate program needs to be approved by the appropriate committees on campus. This additional administrative layer makes the creation of a certificate a more involved and lengthier process. Similar to earlier recommendations in this article, Furco and Holland (2009) recommended aligning efforts with institutional goals as a way to overcome resistance to increasing civic engagement efforts. In other words, demonstrating to administrators how the proposed changes will help advance the goals of a strategic plan or help further the institution’s mission can provide leverage.

Approach Five: Entrepreneurial/Open-Choice Model

On many campuses, there are a large number of CESR courses offered as part of the overall curriculum without a specialized program. In many ways, this is also how the field of higher education and community-engaged courses started (for more on the history of the field, see Stanton, Giles, & Cruz, 1999). By generating a large number of courses in a wide range of disciplines, colleges and universities reach a high percentage of their students. On some campuses, individual faculty members or groups of faculty members in particular departments have been the main impetus behind the development of CESR courses. In other instances, there is strong support for the development of CESR courses from either a civic engagement center or the administration. This flexible model enables faculty to develop projects and programs that meet their needs and to respond to the interests of students and community groups.

Our research echoed trends from the larger field and highlighted a shift away from entrepreneurial/open-choice model toward greater institutionalization among many of the campuses participating in Creating Cohesive Paths (Batten et al., 2017). Especially on campuses without formalized programs or approaches, faculty and staff were beginning to realize the limits to what individual professors working with community partners could accomplish. Part of these limitations relates to scalability: As demand for CESR opportunities grows, it becomes increasingly difficult for individual faculty members to address this demand without some coordination and support from the college or university.

At Bates College, faculty, in collaboration with the Harward Center for Community Partnerships, developed over 50 community-based learning (CBL) courses, resulting in a total of over 75 CESR courses (offered across 23 departments) infusing CESR into the institutional culture (Bates College, 2013). The Bates example demonstrates that is possible to have successful CESR programming without a pathway or specific requirement. It should be noted that the Harward Center is very active on campus and in the community, and represents a clear commitment to and institutionalization of CESR. In many ways, the presence or absence of a strong civic engagement center represents a distinct variable outside of the five ideal approaches presented in this article. The Bates example raises another question for future research regarding the roles and responsibilities of different centers and the processes whereby they shape the civic engagement culture of individual campuses.


While supporting faculty leadership and curriculum development, the ultimate goal of Project Pericles’ Creating Cohesive Paths was to promote an intentional approach to CESR that prioritizes coherent program design with sequential learning goals and the widespread integration of CESR programming throughout the undergraduate experience, particularly in the curriculum. Promoting this type of curricular reform and change is a multi-year process. Through Creating Cohesive Paths, Periclean campuses began important conversations, explored ways to take action to best integrate CESR opportunities into the curriculum, and launched initiatives to institutionalize this work.

Far too often, reports and reviews of institutional engagement efforts end up on a shelf upon conclusion. In this case, Project Pericles was able to support campuses in moving to implementation through two components: (1) Learning about each other’s campuses through an intensive three-day retreat gave campuses concrete models, each with strengths and challenges; and, (2) mini-grants of $3,000 to $7,000 were provided to implement projects on some campuses based upon their action plans. The value of meaningful sharing cannot be underestimated. While lessons can be gained from reading articles, participants stressed the importance of building personal relationships so that campus leaders can learn from and build trust with one another. Repeatedly, those interviewed indicated that gathering together enabled a deeper kind of learning about the broader field of civic engagement and the possibilities therein.

In addition to interactions on and between campuses, participants felt that the funding support also helped them move closer to achieving their individual campus goals. They also mentioned the value of having the imprimatur of an external institution. The funding, while small, and the opportunity to work on action plans together meant that campuses dedicated time to implementing the changes each had identified as relevant. In sum, the entire mapping process, as well as the action plans and mini-grants, enabled the campuses to build upon and refine their approaches to civic engagement while learning from other campuses in an approachable manner. The mapping/survey work identified the five approaches discussed in this article (i.e., requirements, Civic Scholars programs, pathways approaches, certificates, and entrepreneurial/open-choice models). This conceptual framework allowed campuses to locate their own approach within a constellation of approaches and to consider models or elements of other models to incorporate into their own programming.

When evaluating which CESR approaches to adopt, participating campuses recognized that serious consideration should be given to institutional context and what may be possible at any given time within that context. These approaches can be mutually supportive; that is, pursuing one approach does not preclude a second approach or connecting efforts across approaches. Drew University exemplifies this. With an already strong Civic Scholars program, Drew sought to develop programming that would expose more students to the civic engagement opportunities on campus and in the local community. It conducted a review of potential topics of interest and of existing resources and developed three pathways described as “thematic clusters”: “Combating Disease,” “Feeding the Hungry, Feeding the World” (food and sustainability), and “Leadership for the Future” (Drew University, 2015). Relying on existing resources, Drew developed these thematic clusters over the course of a summer. Drew is just one of the many campuses that incorporate more than one model. Future research may consider not just how campuses fit into one model, but how different models could be developed together to further strengthen the development of the whole.

Creating Cohesive Pathways promoted efforts to think comprehensively about the work of civic engagement on campus, how it can be structured to be accessible, and how to achieve participation by the majority of students. In her presentation at the three-day convening, Barbara Holland stressed that thought should be given to the number of students that can be reached utilizing any one approach. Much like the general trend toward institutionalization, Project Pericles has argued that civic engagement and social responsibility are so important that all undergraduates should have some meaningful exposure to them as part of their academic experience.

Conversations with faculty and staff involved in this project proved that conducting an inventory (mapping) can be an empowering process for those involved. Campus after campus reported how helpful the process was for advancing civic engagement at their college or university. Indeed, a mapping exercise can be an important first step in developing more coherent and integrated approaches to CESR. In this case, participants realized that while the mapping is only an initial step, there was much to be gained from the exercise. Elements they shared at both the convening and in later interviews included the following. (1) Undertaking an inventory allowed multiple stakeholders to learn what was already available on campus and in the community. (2) Making these opportunities more visible to faculty members and students expanded the circle of those participating in CESR. (3) Conducting an inventory promoted collaborations between faculty and staff who had not previously worked together and provided an opportunity to exchange information and ideas with others on campus from different departments and units. (4) It raised interest among faculty members about incorporating CESR into their work. Finally, (5) it provided survey teams with time to contemplate how CESR was organized on their campus, to discuss particular strengths, identify where gaps exist, and begin to develop action plans for moving forward.

This project demonstrated that a mapping process can be undertaken, with limited resources, by campuses willing to invest time in understanding what is happening vis-a-vis civic engagement on campuses. This project pointed to the need for further definitional work within the field of civic engagement so that shared terminology around different practices, models, and organizational structures can be more accurately discussed. Additionally, while some of the models have already been studied—namely, the requirements, certificates, and entrepreneurial models—others, such as the Civic Scholars and the pathways models, could benefit from additional research on how engaging with others over time or around particular issues affects students, faculty, and community partners.

More practically, with the information gained through mapping and the five approaches to CESR proposed in this article, campuses should be able to take critical steps toward formalizing and institutionalizing their approaches to civic engagement. Giving serious consideration to how CESR is organized on campus represents an important step in moving toward a more coherent, intentional, and rigorous approach to CESR. The successes of the Creating Cohesive Pathways project demonstrate that civically engaged education has the potential to help students acquire the necessary knowledge, motivation, skills, and values to take action in their communities as thoughtful, engaged, and socially responsible citizens.


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Garret S. Batten is the Assistant Director at Project Pericles. He was part of the leadership team that designed and developed Creating Cohesive Paths to Civic Engagement. He has extensive experience in higher education designing multi-campus initiatives. He previously served as a consultant for two Vice Presidents at the Ford Foundation, where he assisted with the design and development of the Difficult Dialogues Initiative, a multi-million dollar national program focused on promoting pluralism and academic freedom at universities. He subsequently served as the Associate Director of the Difficult Dialogues Initiative at The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, where he supervised activities and worked with grantees at 29 institutions across the country. He holds a B.A. from Kenyon College, an M.A. in Sociology from New York University, and an M.A. in Political Science from The New School for Social Research, and. His contact information is

Arielle M. del Rosario is the Program Manager at Project Pericles where she leads programs promoting student activism and civic participation. Her previous experience spans the college access field, including recent roles at the Schuler Scholar Program in Illinois and the “I Have a Dream Foundation” of Boulder County, Colorado. She is dedicated to youth and community empowerment and is a proud Bonner and AmeriCorps alum. Arielle graduated Phi Beta Kappa, Summa Cum Laude, with a B.A. in Psychology from Rutgers University and holds a M.Sc., with Distinction, in Cognition in Science & Society from the University of Edinburgh. Her contact information is

C:\Users\ja187\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\INetCache\Content.Word\Falcon.png Adrienne Falcón is an associate professor in the Department of Public and Non-Profit Leadership at Metropolitan State University (MN) where she directs the Masters in Advocacy and Political Leadership program. Prior to this, she was the founding director of the Academic Civic Engagement (ACE) program in the Center for Community and Civic Engagement at Carleton College where she also lectured in the sociology department. She was the founding Program Director for Project Pericles at Carleton and led the assessment of civic engagement efforts for the Center as well as supporting faculty to develop more than 50 courses yearly across the disciplines. She spent 2015-2016 at the Universidad de Cuenca with a Fulbright fellowship researching the construction of universal civic engagement efforts for Ecuadorian college students. Adrienne received a B.A. in Latin American Studies from Carleton College and a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Chicago. Her contact information is

Jan Risë Liss joined Project Pericles as its second Executive Director in 2005. At Project Pericles she has developed, launched, and implemented the Civic Engagement Course (CEC) Program™, Debating for Democracy (D4D)™, the Periclean Faculty Leadership (PFL) Program™, Creating Cohesive Paths to Civic Engagement, and Creating Curricular Coherence through Inquiry-Based Curricula and Thematic Pathways. She has senior leadership experience in management, planning, publishing, and financial development for a wide range of organizations, including The Aspen Institute, Consumers Reports, The New York Public Library, The Brookings Institution, American Express, and The Portland Art Association. Jan serves on the Board of Directors of Project Pericles. She served on the Reed College Board of Trustees from 2009-2013 and on the Board of Directors of College and Community Fellowship from 2006-2016. She received a B.A. in Psychology from Reed College and an M.B.A. from the Yale School of Management. Her contact information is

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