WCU earns national honor for civic engagement, service learning

Western Carolina University is among six universities from across the nation to be recognized by the Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars for exceptional commitment to civic engagement and service learning.

The Washington Center named Western Carolina a recipient of a 2010 Higher Education Civic Engagement Award, which was presented at the annual academic award luncheon Monday, Oct. 4, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

The six honorees were chosen from among 120 nominees.

“Western Carolina University is a true role model for civic engagement in the academic community,” said Mike Smith, president of the Washington Center. “The university is teaching students a quality that can’t be learned in the classroom alone—the importance of getting involved, giving back and making a difference.”

The national honor is based in part on WCU’s recent emphasis on incorporating civic engagement into the undergraduate experience through its Quality Enhancement Plan. The QEP requires students to develop an “education briefcase”—an electronic repository in which they will document their learning.

The award also recognizes the university’s Center for Service Learning, which develops campus-community partnerships, monitors engagement initiatives and assesses project outcomes. The Center for Service Learning hosts an annual symposium that welcomes participants from across the country. Civic engagement efforts by WCU students, faculty and staff have included planting a garden to help reduce regional food insecurity, assisting the municipality of Dillsboro with economic recovery, and participating in post-hurricane revitalization efforts in nearby Canton.

“The Washington Center’s Award for Higher Education Civic Engagement strengthens our national presence in civic and community engagement practice,” said Carol Burton, WCU’s assistant vice chancellor for undergraduate studies. “This national recognition for our increasing emphasis on civic engagement is a validation of the efforts of faculty, staff and students at WCU.”

Burton praised the efforts of the Center for Service Learning, director Glenn Bowen and assistant director Jennifer Cooper for their role in advancing an institutional mission of community and civic engagement.

“All members of the university community, our alumni, board of trustees and our community partners share this honor because all have contributed to our efforts in being selected to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with five other exemplary institutions,” she said.

This marks the second consecutive honor for Western Carolina from the Washington Center, which last year awarded honorable mention to WCU for its civic engagement activities.

The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars is an independent, nonprofit organization that serves hundreds of colleges and universities in the United States and other countries by providing selected students challenging opportunities to work and learn in Washington, D.C., for academic credit. The largest program of its kind, the Washington Center has close to 40,000 alumni who have become leaders in numerous professions and nations around the world. It was established in 1975.