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Civic Engagement

Ideas carry the power to solve problems and advance common interests, in local communities and across human society. Nowhere is this conviction more visibly affirmed for our students than through civic engagement. Our student-citizens take their knowledge and put it to work for the communities in which they live, offering solutions to defined problems or making incremental advances toward persistent social problems.

Through these experiences, students help themselves by helping others, practicing responsible citizenship while developing work-ready skills, from communicating and problem solving to ethical awareness and intercultural competency.

Get Started Year One, Day One

Our students are introduced to civic engagement from the moment they step on campus, through a special TCNJ program for first-year students, and continue to find opportunities throughout their educations. Community engaged learning at TCNJ takes the form of reciprocal collaborations rather than unilateral arrangements. We don’t “serve” our partners; rather, our partners grant us a field on which to test knowledge and practice citizenship by working together to address community-identified needs. The benefits flow both ways.

First Year Community Engaged Learning is a graduation requirement that models the values we share across TCNJ and at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. Every first-year student completes eight hours of community engaged learning, either through a first-year seminar course or a co-curricular day of service:

First-year seminar courses train our newest students to put their knowledge to work for the world, by integrating relevant community-based projects into the syllabus. All of our departments offer these courses; here’s a sampling:

  • World Languages: Students in a course on the social contexts of language travel to Trenton to tutor non-native speakers in English language skills.
  • Political Science: Students in a course on environmental justice and political power work side by side with neighborhood groups on cleanup and beautification projects.
  • English: Students in a course on Trenton’s oft-overlooked musical culture conduct oral history interviews to preserve the memories of music makers and music lovers.

Co-curricular days of service bring together small groups of students to share a full day of learning, reflection, and hands-on action focused on a social issue of their choice. Not only do first-year students make an immediate difference, they bond with peers sharing common interests. Recent opportunities include:

  • Seuss Day: Students with an interest in education visit a local middle school to run literacy workshops based on beloved fictional characters.
  • Visitation Home Day: Students concerned about disability issues spend time with residents of a local group home for adults with developmental disabilities, sharing meals, chores, and laughs.
  • Trenton Area Soup Kitchen Day: Students focused on hunger and homelessness work with patrons of a local soup kitchen, serving food, offering GED tutoring, and assisting with food stamp registration.

» Learn more about First Year Community Engaged Learning

Special Opportunities at Our School

Just a few hours of service can have a big impact—and get our students hooked on civic engagement. For these aspiring citizen activists, a natural step after first year community engaged learning is the pursuit of advanced community engaged learning, or ACEL, at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. Our ACEL courses provide a vehicle for students to transfer classroom-based skills and knowledge into the community through substantial projects that address an unmet need.

Advanced community engaged learning, or ACEL, deepens students’ experience in responsible citizenship through upper-level courses in their majors. All of our academic departments offer at least one ACEL course integrating community-based projects as a major component. Among the courses offered recently are:

  • Visual Sociology: This interdisciplinary course brings together sociology and visual arts majors in a project using archival photographs to spark the memories of senior residents of the Old Trenton neighborhood, slated for revitalization as a community-driven arts district.
  • EcoFeminism: Students majoring in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies obtain donations of fresh produce (up to 1,000 pounds a year!) for a local food bank through a course examining the way systemic social inequalities shape the relationship between people and the natural environment.
  • Technology and Culture: This semester-abroad course in Alcalá, Spain, designed for students majoring in Spanish or interactive multimedia, challenges the class to design, produce, and launch a new website for a local homeless shelter and soup kitchen.

Signature community-based programs allow students and faculty to focus their energies on a specific educational passion or social issue through integrated curricular, co-curricular, and community engagement activities. Special programs based at our school or popular with our students include:

  • Women in Learning and Leadership empowers women to become leaders through active learning opportunities, including civic engagement. Their journeys have taken them from the Ewing area, where they volunteer in settings like children’s services and assisted living facilities, to Nicaragua, where they have worked with street children, high-risk expectant mothers, domestic violence survivors, and other vulnerable populations.
  • The Institute for Prison Teaching and Outreach works to transform the lives of prisoners through education. In its innovative College in Prison program, students and inmates become classmates in college courses taught by our English faculty inside the prison walls, sharing their unique perspectives on topics from dystopian literature to classical traditions.
  • Trenton Prevention Policy Board promotes positive youth development among at-risk youth in Trenton through grassroots partnerships. Our criminology students train as facilitators of an aggression-intervention therapy and teach these techniques in Trenton-area after-school programs.

Other civic engagement opportunities are available across all of our academic departments, a reward of the long-term partnerships our faculty nurture with local community groups and organizations. Just two examples: History students can conduct research, lead tours, and design educational programs for schoolchildren at local historic sites, including Princeton Battlefield and Benjamin Temple House. Students in our dual-degree teacher-education programs can grow and harvest food at Fernbrook Farm, a local nonprofit community enterprise, to learn firsthand about the sustainability issues they will teach in the classroom.

» Learn more about Community-Based Academic Internships

» Learn more about Women in Learning and Leadership

Nationally Recognized for Civic Engagement

The incubator of all this civic engagement energy is the Center for Community Engaged Learning and Research, where efforts across TCNJ coalesce to ensure that all of our graduates are prepared to lead lives of thoughtful, engaged citizenship in their communities. Here students find the means to make a difference, faculty find ways to integrate academics with civic engagement, and community organizations find partners to share their dreams and address their needs.

The work of the center touches every student at TCNJ, through three primary initiatives:

  • Community engaged learning, offered across the curriculum and introduced through First Year Community Engaged Learning, aligns scholarship with capacity building in our local community and is a graduation requirement for all TCNJ students.
  • Bonner Community Scholars recruits a cadre of enthusiastic student activists who commit to providing 1,200 hours of meaningful service across their college careers, from installing gardens and artwork in vacant Trenton lots to painting walls and tiling floors of rebuilt houses in New Orleans.
  • Community-based academic internships combine two high-impact learning practices—civic engagement and intensive real-world internships—for a super-charged, career-building experience in nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and other community-oriented fields.

So successful is the center in connecting students and service that TCNJ has earned Community Engagement Classification from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, a distinction shared by only 8 percent of colleges and universities nationwide.

» Learn more about the Center for Community Engaged Learning and Research

» Learn more about Bonner Community Scholars

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