Idea Exchange

For UNC Asheville students Tim Hussey, Anja Mayr, Tatiana Miller and JaNesha Slaughter, college is about more than making good grades—it’s about getting involved and making real, positive changes on campus and beyond. Hussey serves as vice president of the Student Government Association; Mayr started the Student Reflection Leader Program and is the founder and resident assistant for the LEAD Living Learning Community; Miller is a mentor to at-risk middle school students in UNC Asheville’s STRIVE program; and Slaughter is the program coordinator for the university’s “Facing Project,” focusing on affordable housing in Asheville.

On Feb. 9, 2017, these four students had the opportunity to exchange ideas with Andrew Seligsohn, the president of Campus Compact, the nation’s largest national organization dedicated to civic engagement in higher education. Campus Compact has more than 1,100 member institutions, including UNC Asheville, and Seligsohn has a long history of working for civic engagement in colleges and universities. For the students, Seligsohn’s visit was a chance to share ideas about their work and gain insight from Seligsohn’s own experience and knowledge gained from other schools in Campus Compact.

“We focus on the public purposes of higher education, so how we focus on how higher education is contributing to the good of local communities, the good of our whole country and our democracy,” Seligsohn explained. “So it’s about both insuring that in the student experience, students have the opportunities to develop their capacities as engaged citizens—people who are doing the things you guys are doing, solving problems in their communities, and learning as you’re doing it.”

Slaughter, who has been focusing on affordable housing through the Facing Project, wanted to know if Seligsohn knew of any campuses within the Campus Compact that provided free housing to students in exchange for regular community service. Mayr wanted to know more about enabling students to engage in service more consistently, and encouraging deeper and more meaningful reflection about their service. Miller and Hussey were looking for ways to encourage wider student engagement across campus.

Seligsohn explained different successful tactics and projects he’d seen in campuses across the country, explaining that it takes creating opportunities in many aspects of campus life to really get students engaged in community service learning.

“The more that this is coming at students from all the parts of their life, the more likely it is that people find a pathway in,” Seligsohn said. “These things do tend to have an upward spiral. If you can get a few more nodes activated and pull in different people, then they become interested in getting other folks involved.”

Seligsohn also spent time with faculty members who are teaching service learning courses, toured campus, met with the Key Center advisory committee and other faculty members involved in service learning and high impact experiential learning, and heard from faculty and staff members involved in the community engagement focus area of the UNC Asheville Strategic Plan.