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New Center a Model for Public Service

Center for Civic Engagement to serve as gateway for students' community involvement

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October 19, 2009 | by Wendy Leopold

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Figuring out how and where to become involved in community service is never a simple matter. Integrating public service into one's academic curriculum is more difficult still. But -- with the establishment of Northwestern University's Center for Civic Engagement -- these processes have become easier for students and for Northwestern and Evanston community members alike.

Center for Civic Engagement director Dan Lewis invites everyone interested in learning about community service to visit the new center at 1813 Hinman Ave. when it officially opens its doors to the public from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 22. Visitors can take tours and ask questions of center staff, including the center's first class of Civic Engagement Fellows.

As part of its efforts to promote lifelong commitment to active citizenship and social responsibility, the center developed the NU Engagement Inventory. An easy to use online directory of volunteer service opportunities, the inventory also is designed to help Northwestern students weave public service into their academic curricula. To that end, it lists for-credit classes and programs involving service learning as well as opportunities for community-based research, unpaid public service jobs and internships.

Northwestern senior Lauren Troy -- a model of civic engagement who co-chairs Dance Marathon, mentors homeless youth and researches risk factors for adolescent mood disorders -- is one of five undergraduate Civic Engagement Fellows who will do outreach for the center and advise students seeking to integrate civic engagement and academics.

"We understand that not every one who comes to the center will be as intensely engaged in public service as Lauren and our other fellows, and that's fine," says Robert Donahue, associate director of the center. "Our goals are two-fold -- preparing students for lives of responsible citizenship and promoting engagement programs and opportunities that enhance student learning."

Participation in Jumpstart, a model early childhood tutoring program that provides training in early childhood development -- is a new student option that Work-Study Program-eligible students can choose as a job placement. All Jumpstart tutors -- whether working with area preschoolers as work-study students or as volunteers -- are eligible for Americorps education awards of $1,000. To apply, contact Jumpstart coordinator Heidi Gross at heidi-gross@northwestern.edu or visit her at the center.

From Sunday, Oct. 25, through Tuesday, Oct. 27, the center will host a conference of the Interfaith Youth Core on "Leadership for a Religiously Diverse World" on Northwestern's Evanston campus. The conference at Norris University Center, 1999 Campus Drive, and Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, 50 Arts Circle Drive, will bring together college students with interfaith leaders and activists, religious leaders and scholars. For information, visit https://secure.lenos.com/lenos/conferencedirect/ifyc2009/home.htm

The Center for Civic Engagement shares offices with Chicago Field Studies and the Center for Leadership (formerly the Undergraduate Leadership Program), combining three of the major programs offering academic engagement under one roof. It also is home to the Public Interest Program, which places recent Northwestern graduates and young alumni in yearlong paid fellowships at top public service organizations in Chicago and across the nation.  

"Now people can walk into a single place and easily learn about volunteer and civic engagement opportunities here on campus, in Evanston, in Chicago and beyond," says center director Lewis, who also is a professor of education and social policy and research fellow at the Institute for Policy Research. "By sharing space with Chicago Field Studies and the Center for Leadership, we are building a critical mass of civic engagement information in a single space."