Partnering up

President Haas, Provost Davis honor community collaboration, unveil Civic Action Plan

By Kyle Doyle | 4/16/17 10:02pm


According to the American Psychological Association, civic engagement is “individual and collective actions designed to identify and address issues of public concern.”

This type of work being done in the Grand Rapids and Western Michigan communities by individuals and groups within Grand Valley State University has taken hold and spread like wildfire, so much so that Campus Compact, a national coalition of colleges and universities dedicated to the “public purposes of higher education,” uses GVSU as a model for what a school is capable of doing in the civic realm.

Luke Holmes

GVL / Luke Holmes - President Haas speaks with a student about the project she runs.The Civic Engagement Showcase was held in the DeVos Center in downtown Grand Rapids on Thursday, April 13, 2017.

“Nationally, Grand Valley is being recognized as a leader for bringing together community partnerships, faculty, staff and other organizations to help advance the idea that higher education should be more than just job training, more than just learning in a seat in a classroom,” said Danielle Leek, director of professional learning at Campus Compact and former GVSU professor.

At the Civic Engagement Showcase Thursday, April 13, in the DeVos Center, students, faculty, staff and community partners gathered to see the work their peers had done over the past year and to witness GVSU President Thomas Haas and provost and executive vice president Gayle Davis unveiled the new Civic Action Plan.

“Our mission is clear: to shape student lives, professions and society,” Haas said.

The new plan outlined five core commitments which the university would use to help make its civic engagement action plan stronger.

The five new commitments are as follows: overarching commitment, setting high bars for members of the GVSU community to reach in the area of the public purpose of higher education; sustainable partnerships; student civic engagement, preparing students for the world by prompting them to deliberate, act and lead in an effort to advance the public good; place-based institution, contributing economically, socially, environmentally, educationally and politically in an effort to strengthen surrounding communities; and lastly, social and economic equity, using the resources the university has to challenge prevailing social and economic inequalities.

“Now, more than ever, our students need the opportunity to go out into the communities, talk to people in civil ways of a democracy to understand each other's different perspectives, to participate in community initiatives, struggle with all the conflicts, challenges that we all feel around us and prepare to be employees and leaders, yes, but citizens primarily,” Davis said.

At the end of the unveiling, awards were given out to community partnerships that showed sustainable initiatives and projects that shared power between the community and GVSU faculty, staff and students. These partnerships were the West Side Education Initiative, the Spectrum Health Innovations partnership and the Pathway Home Project.

Prior to the unveiling, faculty, students, staff and community partners put together posters and short presentations to display the progress and advances they have made over the past year. These included everything from talks about a rare form of colorectal cancer to new models used in Grand Rapids to help hoarders get help to showing how puppets can help people learn Spanish with more ease.

“It’s Grand Valley’s way of kind of giving back to the community by saying, ‘Go out, find an organization that you're passionate about and do something that you can do to help them,’” said Breanne Keller, a GVSU master’s student studying social work and leader of the new live-in mentor training program for 3:11 Youth Housing.

The event brought together hundreds of people who have made it their goal to help make the communities in and around Grand Rapids a better place, regardless of their major or political stance or background. They were united by one goal: to help others prosper.

“It doesn’t matter if your discipline is geography or math, communications or art, criminal justice or biomedical sciences,” Leek said. “Everything that you do is related to our civic world.”

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