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Bates College recognized for community engagement

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Bates students Colette Girardin, Rusty Epstein and Nancy Weidner perform “Seussical the Musical” in May 2013 during the Robinson Players’ annual production for local schoolchildren (photo by Mike Bradley/Bates College).

Bates College recently received national recognition from a federal agency and a major foundation for its efforts to build community engagement into the education of its students.

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching has selected Bates for its Community Engagement Classification for the second time, a distinction held by only two colleges in Maine and 157 colleges nationwide. The recognition is based on myriad aspects of community engagement, from impacts on student learning, to ways in which a college evaluates and rewards faculty involvement, to the community’s assessments of a college’s value as a partner.

At the same time, Bates has been named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll With Distinction. Through the Honor Roll, the federal Corporation for National and Community Service recognizes colleges and universities that embody exemplary community service while raising the visibility of effective practices in campus-community partnerships.

“The Carnegie Foundation’s classification is the gold standard for community engagement work in higher education,” says Darby Ray, director of the Harward Center, the Bates office that facilitates the college’s partnerships with the community. “To also earn a place on the President’s Honor Roll, especially ‘With Distinction,’ is a wonderful affirmation of the college’s commitment to innovative pedagogy and the public good.”

In contrast to Carnegie’s standard system of classifying colleges and universities, which is based on public data and includes virtually all U.S. schools, the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification results from an rigorous, elective application process. This approach enables schools to spotlight aspects of their missions and programs that Carnegie would not find in public data.

“They’re looking for community engagement that is truly an embedded, systemic institutional priority,” Ray says. “For Bates, where our institutional mission emphasizes the cultivation of informed civic action and responsible stewardship of the wider world, the Carnegie classification is a vitally important confirmation of past accomplishments and future direction.”

Bates, which first received the Classification in 2008, was one of 157 schools to be reclassified this year. Eighty-three colleges and universities received the classification for the first time in 2015, while 121 earned the classification during a selection process in 2010. All told, 361 institutions, including five in Maine, hold the classification. The other four Maine schools are Saint Joseph’s College, Unity Colleges and the University of Maine System campuses at Orono and Machias.

According to Ray, the President’s Honor Roll evaluates an institution’s most noteworthy projects and partnerships in a given year and considers the annual participation rates of students and faculty in community-engaged work. Bates has been listed on the roll every year since the program’s inception in 2006.

Among the programs in Lewiston and beyond that Bates cited on its application this year were initiatives in environmental education, the arts and childhood literacy. Bates was one of 121 schools honored “With Distinction” in the General Community Service category, and one of 22 so designated in the Education category. The only other Maine school on the 2014 Honor Roll is St. Joseph’s College.

Bates has long recognized that mutual relationships and shared action are essential if both the college and its surrounding communities are to flourish. Students’ community-engaged work at the college includes learning or participatory research connected to courses; senior thesis research, research fellowships or summer fellowships; one-time or ongoing volunteer opportunities; and leadership development projects.

From September 2012 through August 2013 (the most recent year for which data is available): the Harward Center awarded $202,666 in grants or fellowships to faculty, staff, students and community partners to support civic engagement work; 1,143 Bates students performed 50,363 documented hours of academically based community work; 12,629 of those hours were provided in connection with the public schools; and fifty-one courses, representing 23 of the college’s 32 academic departments and programs, included a community-engaged learning component.

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