Community Engagement in Theory

Brandon Youker audio

Brandon Youker, Assistant Professor
School of Social Work

Brandon Youker on Community-Based Learning

Dr. Brandon Youker, Assistant Professor School of Social Work, discusses Community-Based Learning on Shelley Irwin's WGVU Morning Show,  2 May 2016. The following is an excerpt:

“Community-based learning is just the idea that universities partner with the community in which they reside; and in my case, community-based organizations partner with my students in a relationship of reciprocity, or mutual benefit… each gets something out of the relationship. So, for example, I teach a class, and this evaluation class for graduate students goes and kind of adopts a community organization and then we conduct evaluations of the organization’s programs and write reports.

“The students I think they get the real world hands-on experiences by working with real community partners, working with real issues in a real context. And also, then there are real consequences for not only the students but, of course, for the organizations that we work with. So I think that’s a really big motivator for the students to see that the work they are doing is impacting a particular organization that serves a particular population.

“The partners also receive benefit, and hopefully, that is, we conduct these quality evaluations and we give them reports, and we make recommendations, and we present our findings to the board, staff members, managers, administrators, and, of course, some of their consumers as well. And so, not only do they get, hopefully, high quality evaluation, but they also get an opportunity to think more deeply about their programs, help articulate those programs a little bit better sometimes, as well as find areas for possible improvement.”

CCPS Manifesto on Community Engagement

For ten years our College has wrestled with creating a common identity. We have talked about our mission. We have crafted our elevator speech. We have outlined our marketing plan.

It is time to do something else. It is time to put our identity crisis behind us and embrace a shared vision, a common purpose, a raison d'être. Over the next ten years, I want the College of Community and Public Service to become a model of an “Engaged College.” That is, I want us to expand our various community connections, deepen our commitment to service learning, and promote our faculty’s participation in community problem solving. I want us to do these things more and I want us to do these things better. I want CCPS to become the model not only for the rest of Grand Valley State University, but for any college that wants to do community engagement and do it right.
I want us to be a leader in reinvigorating the community and public mission of American higher education.

Why community engagement?  Because community engagement is already in our DNA. Although the wording may vary, community engagement saturates the missions, visions, and values of all the College’s units and programs. It is not something concocted to create a marketable brand identity, or please funders and legislators, or satisfy accreditation standards, or please the university administration.  It is organic to who we are and it has been for 10 years.

I also believe community engagement can bridge a chasm that has developed in the perception of 21st century higher education. Some of our stakeholders believe our educational mission is to develop an employable work force, emphasizing skills associated with economic development. Other stakeholders view our educational mission as rooted in the liberal arts, teaching critical thinking, clear communication, and problem solving. Community engagement is the activity that best bridges this divide. When students can apply their developing knowledge, values and skills in real-world contexts, we produce both better employees and better citizens.  

We already do community engagement better than most. We could just pat ourselves on the back and carry on. However, I sat that the task before us is not just to do community engagement in quantity, but to do it with quality. We will offer our students community engagement in a more iterative and more reflective learning environment. We will better connect community partners with the appropriate talents available in the College’s students, staff and faculty. We will transform community engagement into an activity that clearly contributes to, rather than drains, university resources. We will better recognize and evaluate community engagement in the work of our students, our staff and our faculty. Most importantly, we will influence the habits of the heart that our graduates carry with them as they transform from engaged students to engaged citizens.

Dean George Grant, Jr.

Dean George Grant, Jr. Photo

Dean George Grant, Jr.
College of Community & Public Service