What is our community engagement?

By Erika Buhring, Suzanne Ehst, David Kendall, Jan Shetler ’78, Duane Stoltzfus ’81 — the directors of the Center for Community Engagement

Community engagement has been central to Goshen College since our founding, and our motto “Culture for Service” captures it well. But it was explicitly affirmed in 1968 when the faculty unanimously voted to require a service-focused international semester in the core curriculum. After 52 years, our commitment to community engagement has grown only stronger.

However, much of this past engagement with partners has largely been in the service of the institution and our students. The Center for Community Engagement (CCE) was created this year to propel the college further into the next phase of community-based initiatives, centralizing reciprocal partnerships that advance work in the community in the context of our students’ learning.

The CCE will provide guidance, training and resources to strengthen the work already being done with community partners. Currently, each major at the college requires a practicum that sends students out to apply their work in the world, and many of our adult and graduate students are already deeply invested in community jobs as they advance their education. Some courses visit partners to enhance student learning and assist the organization’s work too. Many alumni host student interns or make connections that enhance career paths. Study-Service Term requires a six-week, service-learning assignment, and first-year students have an annual service day in their Identity, Culture and Community class. Additionally, courses for continuing education in Spanish and industry skills are offered. The CCE will support all of these programs to re-examine, expand and solidify reciprocal partnerships to respond more effectively to the needs of the community in the context of this existing work.

In addition, we will develop new partnerships that will have an identifiable impact on the well-being of people in our local region, and particularly in Elkhart County. We will increase place-based activities that work with local partners to  address the issue of the low rate of access to education. We’re reaching out to partners in neighborhoods with the lowest post-secondary educational attainment rates, where income, race and ethnicity are correlated. A first step has been to listen to these partners so that expanding educational access for the residents themselves is at the heart of our initiatives. From that work new partnerships will be identified that bring together the needs of the community with opportunities for engaging our students in meaningful, place-based learning initiatives. Thus, experiences will flourish for years to come through passionate community-based partnerships.