SISL > Empowering Students

Empowering Students: Engaging in Solution Building for Society

Students' Skills and Self-Assessment

Students need authentic opportunities to practice the skills and attitudes to make positive change. They need experiences, becoming actively involved in the environmental, economic, and social aspects of sustainability. How can you, as a faculty member, intentionally foster the skills that students need to engage effectively in sustainability in their roles as worker, consumer, investor, community member? Here are a few pieces for inspiration:

Civic Learning and Engagement

As a strategic educational approach, civic engagement works!

Thoughtful and purposefully designed civic engagement activities yield greater learning and increased graduation rates in K–12 schools, community colleges, and four-year institutions (Astin and Vogelgesang 2006; Bridgeland, DiIulio, and Morison 2006; Prentice and Robinson 2010). In fact, Gent (2007) has argued that civic engagement is one way to ensure that no student is left behind.

While many variations of civic engagement exist across the country, those statistically proven to be most effective for promoting student success have three essential elements:

  1. Intentional campus, community, and conceptual connections
  2. Collaborative learning relationships among instructors, students, and community participants
  3. Integration into educational expectations and organizational performance

One particularly engaging example is course and campus or co-curricular conversations , an activity which gets students involved with clean energy, climate change solutions, civic engagement, and civil discourse skills.

For more on this research, see

Articles and Web sites on Civic Engagement

In "Preparing Students to Be Citizens," the lead article in the January/February 2013 issue of Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, Martha Kanter, Undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Education and Carol Geary Schneider, President of the Association of American Colleges and Universities...

The National Center for Science and Civic Engagement...

Authentic engagement in Sustainability would do well to follow these High-Impact Community Engagement Practices (HICEPs) which emphasize the following aspects in better serving the information and knowledge needs of community and governmental organizations and constituencies:

  1. place: place-based learning that incorporates community understanding, context, and assets and includes community voice in defining relationships and projects
  2. humility: knowledge co-creation in which partners, students, and faculty share co-educator status
  3. integration: of both co-curricular and curricular contexts and structures)
  4. depth: multi-year strategic agreements for capacity building)
  5. development: grounding in appropriate student and partner developmental needs, changing over time
  6. sequence: scaffolded projects evolving over multiple semesters or calendar years
  7. teams: involving multiple participants at different levels
  8. reflection: structured and unstructured oral, written, and innovative formats)
  9. mentors: dialogue and coaching by partners, peers, and/or faculty)
  10. learning: collaborative and responsive teaching and learning opportunities)
  11. capacity building: designed to build the organization/agency over time)
  12. evidence: integration of evidence-based or proven program models)
  13. impact orientation: identifiable outcomes and strategies for evaluation and measurement

AAC&U's Core Commitments initiative recently released "Promising Practices for Personal and Social Responsibility: Findings from a National Research Collaborative", which summarizes national research about the relationships between particular educational practices and outcomes related to personal and social responsibility.

In a recently released report, the Educational Testing Service (ETS) calls for educational leadership to address gaps in civic knowledge and participation currently afflicting American society. The report, "Fault Lines in Our Democracy: Civic Knowledge, Voting Behavior, and Civic Engagement in the United States", points to distressing findings about students' low levels of civic knowledge and troubling correlations between educational level and civic engagement.

The Personal and Social Responsibility Inventory measures campus climate along five dimensions:

  1. Striving for Excellence,
  2. Cultivating Academic Integrity,
  3. Contributing to a Larger Community,
  4. Taking Seriously the Perspectives of Others, and
  5. Developing Competence in Ethical and Moral Reasoning and Action.

Initially developed in connection with AAC&U's Core Commitments initiative, the inventory is now being administered by the Research Institute for Studies in Education at Iowa State University.

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