Center for Applied Research and Rural Studies
The Civic Engagement and Public Service Division at Central Michigan University brings researchers, students, and community members together in collaborative projects to address contemporary civil and political issues through deliberation, collective problem solving and interactions with a diverse society.
The historic strength of American society is spelled out on the Great Seal of the United States with a succinct Latin phrase:
E Pluribus Unum....Out of Many, One. Sustaining democracy in a free and diverse society requires that citizens develop a shared, overarching identity despite their differences, and that they learn to coordinate their endeavors to participate effectively in the civic and political affairs of their local, state, national and global communities. Yet research indicates that American society has become increasingly fragmented. At the same time, citizens' willingness and ability to assume responsibility for civil and political problems has declined. Learning to negotiate and to act upon a shared definition of the common good with those who are different is increasingly important -- not only within the United States' deliberative organizations and institutions, but also beyond our borders. Such endeavors are essential to successful U.S. diplomacy and foreign relations and for sustaining democracies around the globe during an era of increasing immigration.
The Division will address these concerns, not only by cultivating engagement among CMU students and community members, but also by researching which approaches to reinvigorating participation in public life are most effective.
The Division has goals and objectives in terms of teaching, research, and student & community outreach:
- Revitalize pedagogy in relevant courses at all levels of instruction, with emphasis on social studies, environmental studies, government and political science courses, so that deliberative skills are gained through participatory learning experiences.
- Objective 1.1
Identify existing organizations and programs within CMU and the surrounding community committed to deliberative civic education in order to leverage existing resources and build on existing strengths and resources.
- Objective 1.2
Develop new undergraduate and graduate courses on deliberation in political science and public administration courses that emphasize participatory learning modules.
- Objective 1.3
Integrate participatory learning modules into existing political science and public administration courses where appropriate.
- Objective 1.4
Incorporate participatory learning modules as an option for undergraduate and graduate students to complete a certificate program or capstone experience.
- Objective 1.5
Implement participatory learning modules in other CMU and non-CMU departments and programs when appropriate.
- Support inter-disciplinary research endeavors, which explore the effectiveness of various efforts to promote inclusive civic identities and the ability of citizens to participate in public life
- Objective 2.1
Identify existing researchers at CMU with an interest in civic deliberation.
- Objective 2.2
Use Division resources to pursue internal and external funding to support course releases so that faculty will have time to develop the curricular and programming components of the Division's mission.
- Objective 2.3
Develop participatory classroom modules and programming that allow students to engage in deliberative activities while simultaneously providing faculty with research information.
Student & Community Outreach
- Cultivate healthy, inclusive civic identities, which promote both long-term participation in public life, the ability to solve 21
century challenges related to governance, diversity and sustainability, and concern for other people's abilities to do likewise
- Objective 3.1
Support the implementation of projects geared toward facilitating a healthy civic society on campus and in Mt. Pleasant.
- Objective 3.2
Develop campus and community programming that emphasizes essential skills for effectively participating in civil and political affairs, with special emphasis on the activities of public deliberation and collective problem solving.
Talking Points: Potential Activities and Directions
The Division will sponsor undergraduate and graduate concentrations and/or certificates, as well as in-class experiences, internships and extra-curricular activities that supplement current course offerings. These experiences would purposefully address elements that are missing from current students' natural political socialization - notably participation in voluntary associations and civil society. For example, failure to participate in inclusive and democratically structured voluntary organizations means that today's college students have limited experience with deliberation, problem solving and multi-cultural interactions. Yet research shows such experiences are the key to cultivating healthy civic identities, increasing tolerance and willingness to engage in perspective-taking, and promoting long term participation in public life. The Division would focus on providing more students with deliberative problem solving experiences.
- New graduate level certificate and/or capstone experience: A certificate program will be based on practical experiences and largely existing coursework in political science/public administration. Practical experiences, specifically intended to focus attention on engaging citizens will include moderating discussion sessions and participating in community research projects undertaken by CARRS. Coding data from discussion sessions will also be included in these practical experiences, as such coding requires students to pay careful attention to how the structure and rules of the game affect who participates effectively in deliberative settings.
- New undergraduate certificate and/or capstone experience: Undergraduates would need to be carefully screened for participation in the practical experiences described above. Perhaps the undergraduate certificate could focus on fulfilling course requirements and participation in deliberative programming experiences rather than the types of apprenticeships undertaken by graduate students. Reflection on participation in a series of deliberative experiences may be the final component of a capstone experience - which is an increasingly popular element of a liberal arts education. This topic should remain open for discussion among those who will be involved in the Division's initial work.
- Undergraduate experiences: Currently the political science department requires most of its PSC 105 students to participate in deliberative discussion sessions - which is the classroom experience most closely linked to the development of long-term adult political participation. These opportunities have received overwhelmingly positive feedback from students, and they are linked to increased enrollment in the sections where the experience is provided. The Division will build on this success to develop similar opportunities for students in more undergraduate courses. Collecting data on improvements in students' civic identity and political efficacy could also be used as assessment data to demonstrate that CMU is accomplishing key elements of its mission statement and recent vision plans.
- Social Studies Education: Specific experiences, designed to help future social studies teachers learn how to incorporate deliberative problem solving in secondary education, will be developed and incorporated into required political science courses. Eventually, this emphasis could lead to the continuing education workshops for practicing teachers.
If the Division is successful in attracting funding from an external grant or endowment, funding could be directed toward supporting an adjunct instructor associated with the Division's teaching priorities.
The Division will provide service to the campus and Mt. Pleasant community by sponsoring related public programs. Initially, the Division would be designed to support the implementation of several projects geared toward facilitating healthy civil society on campus and in Mt. Pleasant.
- The Division's inaugural civil society project, for example, will develop a campus/community volunteer project carefully designed to build a more inclusive and deliberative community. The program will be explicitly structured to help participants overcome prejudice by building a common, inclusive identity. The entire project will require a two year cycle, with the first year dedicated to public deliberation to identify an ideal project, and the second focused on implementation. Ideally, this cycle will become institutionalized - so that all graduating students will see a joint project come to fruition during their years at CMU.
- The Division will also explicitly further findings of CMUs 2010 Diversity Research Project, which found that participation in student organizations increases interracial interactions and friendships - both of which are linked to the important civic skills of perspective-taking and critical thinking. The Division will build on this strength by identifying the "best RSO practices" responsible for this outcome, as well as those practices that diminish RSO contributions to the goals of a liberal arts education. These recommendations will be used as the basis for training and workshops for RSO executives and members on the CMU campus.
Several faculty members have research interests related to the goals of the Division. Hence all of the teaching and service activities associated with the Division have the potential to serve as interventions in carefully conducted experimental designs. They will provide a rich and on-going source of data for faculty publications. These research endeavors could be facilitated by linking the Project to the CARRS Center, which is a well-established and self-sustaining research center on campus.
- Research on pedagogy for engagement in public life, for example, will assess the impact of different deliberative discussion formats on participating undergraduates; the impact of moderating these discussion sessions on graduate students; and the impact of explicit training in deliberation for social studies teachers on their classroom instruction and on their students' attitudes toward participation.
- Data will also be collected on the effectiveness of the campus-community project. In particular, the goal of this project is to continue to monitor the campus and community climate for race and diversity - a task initially undertaking by the 2010 Diversity Research Project. Quantitative surveys to assess participants' attitudes toward race and diversity -- conducted before, during and after the implementation of the program -- will serve as the pre and post tests in this naturally occurring experimental design. Results will also be compared to similar prior surveys to assess changes in the campus and community climate over a longer period of time. These data will be supplemented with qualitative focus groups and interviews to provide in-depth insight into participant experiences.
- Similarly, the outcome of encouraging RSO members to adopt the "best" civil society practices will be assessed with qualitative surveys and quantitative interviews with participants. These case study findings of outcomes on the CMU campus will be confirmed with a larger, multi-campus survey that will attempt to confirm the link between different features of student organizations and their members' civic identities and attitudes toward public life.
- Once established, the Division would ideally become a resource for faculty with related research interests, in the department and across the college and university. Pending successful grantsmanship, the Division may eventually be able fund relevant projects independently. More importantly, however, it would immediately provide infrastructure for externally funded projects that need a "home" on campus. In short, the Division could provide the infrastructure and administrative support necessary to successfully attract, support and administer such projects.