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The new Wells Fargo Center for Community Engagement at Queens University of Charlotte will provide guaranteed opportunities for undergraduate students to engage in high-quality civic and community engagement experiences across all academic areas. The Center is part of a three-year, $750,000 commitment from Wells Fargo.
The establishment of the Center aligns with the university’s strategic plan, "Queens 2020: The Yes/And Promise," which ensures that every Queens student engages in a unique combination of experiences that enhance learning beyond the classroom.
“We feel privileged to partner with Wells Fargo to provide our students with rich and meaningful experiences that will deepen their learning while enriching the wellbeing of the Charlotte community,” says Dr. Pamela Davies, president of Queens University of Charlotte.
“Our Yes/And Promise is our commitment that our students enter the world with not only a diversity of experiences, but the ability to articulate their meaning and impact. Vibrant community engagement is essential to fulfilling this promise.”
“As part of the Wells Fargo Foundation’s focus on civic engagement, we wanted to identify a way that students could have direct interaction working with nonprofits to solve community issues,” says Jay Everette, senior community relations manager, Wells Fargo Social Responsibility Group.
“This program benefits students by allowing them to apply classroom learning to address real world community needs, it provides nonprofits with resources and strategic assets in the form of bright young talent and the community ultimately benefits from the outcomes of this work. We see it as a win for student learning, a win for nonprofits who need social capital and talent and a win for the community at large.”
Community engagement, and in particular service learning, offers tangible impacts on student personal and interpersonal development. It also aids in developing a student’s sense of social responsibility, citizenship skills and a commitment to service.
“If you empower students to understand how problems affect communities on the ground, firsthand, and how different organizations are addressing these problems and give students the skills and experience with working with these community partners, you see positive learning outcomes and impacts on student personal and academic development,” says Dr. Margaret Commins, Shelton Professor of Political Science.
The new Center will build on the university’s nationally distinctive general education program, which engages 100 percent of undergraduate students in civic engagement experiences. The program’s learning communities are taught by faculty teams from across different disciplines. This interdisciplinary approach enriches and complements the student experience by covering subject matter through the lens of different disciplines.
Dr. Sarah Griffith, associate professor of history, includes a service learning component as part of a course she teaches in the general education program. Students spend two days per week in class and the third day working with refugees through one of five refugee resettlement agencies in Charlotte.
“In class, students learn the basics, like what causes refugee crises, what's the history, what are the international and national laws that frame our responsibilities to refugees,” says Dr. Griffith. “We're doing research, scholarly readings and discussion dialogues in class. Students then see firsthand how the classroom materials complement or contradict what they’re seeing on the ground in these resettlement agencies.”
For Chase Currier ’20, an environmental science major from Charlotte, the civic engagement portion of the class has had a profound impact on his worldview.
“At the start of the semester, I entered with already formed opinions on immigration and refugee crises, but that was only based on statistics and what you see on the news, which was very uninformed. It's a humanitarian issue with the emphasis on human being. Experiencing what I was learning, it humbled me a lot and opened my perspective and worldview on refugees and immigration.”
As part of their course experience, students write reflections about their course work and the time they spend outside class working with refugees, which Dr. Griffith says shows how truly meaningful the community engagement experience can be for students.
“The students write some amazing reflections on their experience. The agencies love having students involved since they tend to be very persistent, professional and generous with their time. The agencies benefit and the students benefit from the experience.”
A new full-time director will be hired to lead the Center and work collaboratively with faculty and academic program leaders to support community engagement activities across disciplinary areas. The director will serve as a liaison between faculty and Charlotte-area community organizations with the goal of fostering meaningful student learning and deepening community well-being through expanded community partnership agreements.
“The challenge with service learning and civic engagement is that it’s extremely time intensive for faculty,” says Dr. Commins. “You have to develop community partnerships and gain trust. And best practice for pedagogies in service learning is that the community partner is really driving the solution by coming to you and saying here is something we are working on, we need help with this, can we work together on this problem.”
Having a full-time director to lead the work of the Center and develop partnerships will benefit students, faculty and community organizations as it will serve as a central clearinghouse of ideas and a knowledgebase for all the community engagement activities that occur across the university.
Charlotte provides opportunities for diverse areas of study ranging from economic mobility to immigrant and refugee populations to environmental health and quality to food and healthcare deserts, among others.
“I see us as a laboratory for a community that has the skills, the resources and the potential to really make a difference for everyone and that motivates me,” says Dr. Patricia Koplas, Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation Professor and chair of the Biology Department. “The Center will facilitate a collaboration of talent in our community to make this all possible.”
The Wells Fargo Center for Community Engagement will be located on the Queens campus in the Sykes Learning Center and will open in January 2019. A search for a director to lead the Center is currently underway.