Wilmington, NC – North Carolina Campus Compact sponsored two regional conferences this week at UNC Wilmington: the Civic Engagement Institute and the PACE Conference. Together, the events drew over 400 faculty, campus administrators, and community representatives – including 15 college and university presidents and chancellors – to explore strategies that will improve connections between higher education institutions and local communities.
At the Civic Engagement Institute, held on Tuesday, 215 participants sought to align higher education economic development and community engagement activities. On Wednesday, the PACE Conference (Pathways to Achieving Civic Engagement) drew 265 faculty and staff from over 40 different campuses in 9 states. PACE attendees shared research, model programs, and best practices that involve students in community-based learning.
Now in its 16th year, the PACE conference is also a chance for the Compact to recognize outstanding leaders in higher education community engagement.
Chancellor Philip Dubois of UNC Charlotte received the 2014 Leo M. Lambert Engaged Leader Award for supporting his university’s civic and economic engagement in the Charlotte region. Fellow chancellors and presidents selected Dubois, who became the third winner of the award, named for Elon University President Leo Lambert. Previous honorees are Chancellor Linda Brady (2012) of UNC Greensboro and Chancellor Harold Martin (2013) of NC A&T State University.
UNC Charlotte Professor Jim Cook was honored with the Compact’s Robert L. Sigmon Award for achievements in community-engaged teaching and impact. The annual award, named for North Carolina native and service-learning pioneer Robert Sigmon, recognizes one faculty member in the state.
The Compact also honored two campus administrators. UNC Greensboro’s Dr. Emily Janke was recognized as the network’s Civic Engagement “Sustaining” Professional of the Year, and High Point University’s Reverend Joe Blosser was recognized as the Civic Engagement “Emerging Leader” of the Year.
At PACE, fifty-six presenters led 30 breakout sessions on topics ranging from how universities can better work with local non-profits to the challenges of measuring student development and community change. National expert Gail Robinson led a special track for community college faculty and staff, and Dr. Jody Kretzman, co-founder of the Asset-Based Community Development Institute, delivered remarks and workshops on the academy’s role in identifying and building on a community’s existing strengths to “co-produce” vibrant, healthy communities.
“Being here, I’m just really excited because I’m seeing now the language and the models and the processes for the things that I had wanted to do, but didn’t know how to execute,” said Marissa Nesbit, a first-year faculty member at East Carolina University. Nesbit plans to integrate community learning and service in her dance education courses.
During the PACE closing session, Dr. Barbara Holland delivered remarks. Holland also became an “Honorary Tar Heel,” receiving a plaque and letter from Governor Pat McCrory recognizing her contributions to higher education and community engagement. For more than a decade, Holland has been a international leader in her field and has consulted with several NC colleges and universities to improve their community engagement practice.
On Tuesday, the Civic Engagement Institute drew a mix of faculty, economic development professionals, and college administrators who explored the links between campus community engagement and economic development. Thirty-four presenters led 26 breakout sessions. An opening plenary session featured four different speakers, each representing a different perspective on the day’s theme.
UNC Wilmington Chancellor Gary Miller shared his experience working with business, government, and community leaders to tackle local issues. Allan Freyer, a policy analyst at the NC Justice Center’s Budget and Tax Center, highlighted recent trends in the state economy and emphasized the need for economic development policies that target rural areas and growing jobs with higher wages.
Leslie Boney, from UNC General Administration, shared what he learned from recent “listening sessions” conducted with business leaders across the state, who emphasized the importance of graduates having, in addition to technical competence, “soft skills” like self-motivation, effective communication, and adaptability.
Suggesting that “community engagers are from Venus and economic developers are from Mars,” Boney argued, “We need graduates who understand ‘Mars skills’ – like how to drive off of data to build an economy that works, even as they use skills from Venus to build an economy that works for all.”
Finally, two local government officials from the Town of Williamston, NC spoke of their community’s effort to promote economic development through a focus on sustainability. Partnering with NC State University and Audubon International’s sustainable communities program legitimized the effort with residents, said Tom Ward, the town’s sustainability coordinator. Ward explained, “We were able to help people understand sustainability on their own terms: ‘leaving the woodpile as high as you found it.’”
UNC Greensboro’s Cathy Hamilton, director of the Office of Leadership and Service-Learning, found the institute “electrifying.”
“It’s been really different from other institutes that I’ve attended in the range of perspectives… multiple languages, multiple disciplines, multiples lens. I’ve been in this business a long time, and it’s exciting to hear new ideas about how community engagement could move forward through the kind of collaboration and coalition building that makes a difference for everyone.”
The Civic Engagement Institute and PACE Conference will be held again in 2015 on the campus of Elon University in Elon, NC. The events are scheduled for February 17-18, 2015.