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Community Engagement

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UNI Earns Presidential Honor for Community Service

The University of Northern Iowa is the winner of the Economic Opportunity Award for the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll. The Economic Opportunity Award recognizes institutions with service programs that build economic independence, increase family stability, and create more sustainable and resilient communities.

Since 1997, the University of Northern Iowa’s Local Food Program has promoted economic opportunity and strengthened the local food economy in Northeast Iowa. In 2013-2014 alone, 17 institutional food buyers purchased nearly $3 million in local foods supporting the region’s food and farm business.

“Service and higher education go hand in hand,” said Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service. “Every day these colleges and universities inspire young leaders to commit to solving problems alongside community members. By recognizing institutions like the University of Northern Iowa that are pioneers in achieving meaningful, measurable results for their communities, we also highlight the critical role all higher education institutions play in addressing community challenges and placing more students on a lifelong path of civic engagement.”

Higher Education Seeks to Bring Attention to Civic Skills Gap and Solutions- Iowa Campus Compact 

Iowa is facing a civic skills gap. Communities face challenges that require active citizens with the ability and willingness to apply skills like communication, critical thinking, and teamwork.  The 21 college and university members of Iowa Campus Compact (IACC) are working to fill this gap by helping students build these skills through community experiences.

To be successful, a broader coalition of nonprofit, community, and business leaders is needed, so IACC is launching a new campaign to help bring attention to the issue and solutions.

“Community experiences were central to developing my ability to frame and solve problems, to manage projects independently, to communicate effectively, to work with groups of diverse people, and to celebrate the contributions of people at all levels of the organization,” said Iowa Campus Compact Board Chair and Coe College President David McInally on his personal experience in building core skills through community experiences.

In addition to building civic skills, community experiences can also contribute to gaps in workforce skills. Three in four employers said in a recent survey that they want colleges to place more emphasis on critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, and applied knowledge in real-world settings and 92% said volunteering expands an employee’s professional skill set (Association of American Colleges and Universities report).

The new “Giving Voice to the Civic Mission” campaign will seek to elevate the public understanding of how quality, hands-on experiences shape students into effective leaders. We will share stories of how volunteer projects, service-learning courses, alternative break trips, nonprofit internships, and a range of other opportunities leverage real-world experience while contributing to community needs.

It is our goal that this information will help parents and students can take advantage skill-building community experiences, assist employers can seek candidates who have had these experiences, and encourage community leaders to support the partnerships needed to make more of these experiences a reality.

Here’s how to get involved:

  • Students and alumni: share your stories of building skills through community experiences.
  • Employers: get new resources and ideas on seeking and building these skills in employees.
  • Parents and students: find out how to engage in these experiences.
  • Nonprofits and community leaders:  find new ideas and connections with colleges and universities to create more of these skill-based opportunities.

Learn more about this initiative on the web site or in video form.

UNI Service Learning Project Helps Refugees, Adds Value to Education 

Christinia Crippes christinia.crippes@wcfcourier.com Dec 12, 2016

Article Credit: Christinia Crippes- The Courier

Cedar Falls

University of Northern Iowa senior Conner Hoyt is about to graduate with a degree in religion. So, he is accustomed to the question, “What in the world are you going to do with a major in religion?”

Thanks to the senior religion seminar class he just completed, Hoyt now finally has an answer. 

“While I don’t have the answer perfectly structured yet, I can at least tell them that it’s a field of humanitarianism that’s going to grow with the world around it, and I’m extraordinarily proud to be a part of that,” Hoyt said recently during a presentation on the service learning aspect of the senior religion seminar. 

Hoyt’s was echoed by his 10 classmates. 

The class combined developing a job training curriculum for the Cedar Valley’s Burmese refugees with understanding religious and cultural differences among Iowa’s refugee populations. 

As each of Hoyt’s classmates offered their biggest takeaways from the semester-long course, they described how it gave them a better understanding of working in the real world, and how their work can have a very real impact on the world. 

“This whole experience has shown me I definitely do have something to give, and it’s made me aware of that,” said Katherine Rinken, a junior at UNI who is minoring in religion.

Rinken also explained how initially overwhelmed she was by the work the class would entail.

Students prepared several guides for Burmese job seekers in partnership with EMBARC, or Ethnic Minorities of Burma Advocacy and Resource Center, that not only offer interview etiquette tips but help to contextualize why they’re important in American culture.

EMBARC will plan to use the guides going forward. 

Mallory Petsche, a RefugeeRise AmeriCorps member with EMBARC, offered comments from Burmese mentees who said they were appreciative of the help they received from the UNI religion seminar students who mentored and worked with them. 

UNI religion seminar professor Cara Burnidge said the project, which has been in the works since May, could become a reality because of two factors: a state funding increase for EMBARC to boost job training efforts and new initiatives at UNI that made it easier for professors to design service learning courses as part of the curriculum.

Burnidge added she’s already looking at ways to continue to partner with EMBARC, and UNI community engagement fellow Julianne Gassman said she’d also talked with Petsche about how the university could further partner with the refugee advocacy group. 

Gassman said the university has several partnerships throughout the community and already does a lot of service learning projects, for which it has garnered national recognition and awards. But the campus is now looking to be more intentional about its work. 

“It needs to be a focused effort around an issue that we need to move the needle on in this community,” Gassman said. “It’s not something new. This is like an old story. We just haven’t told anyone about it.” 

That story is evident in the students in Burnidge’s class. 

It’s about the ways the students can help play a role in making improvements in the community they’ll call home throughout their college careers. It’s about students getting an education in their particular field but also about teaching them to be engaged citizens wherever they go after college.

Nicole Knapp, a senior religion major at UNI, offered a particularly concrete example of how she plans to engage her community after graduation. Knapp studied religion to make a career in family ministries, and that remains her passion. Only now rather than taking that career anywhere, Knapp said she wants to return to Marshalltown and work with the immigrants in her home community.

Katie Schieffer, a UNI senior majoring in religion and anthropology, got so much out of the religion seminar she wants to find a job with AmericaCorps upon graduation.

But the story the students can tell is best summed up by Morganne Reinboldt, a junior religion major, in defending the work they did over the semester. 

“This became something that we all became really involved in personally, and I think that really made a difference, too. We all care about this now. This is something that you talk to us about and we’re not just naming of facts to name oᙸ facts. This is something now that we care, we really care that this is helping people right here, right now, Reinboldt said. “We really care that by completing these projects, we’re affirming other people’s passion for this, and so I think this setting allowed for that, allowed for that passion and for us all find something within this that allowed us to let that passion grow.”