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Center for Civic Engagement names director

By : Katie Ellis

The new Center for Civic Engagement within the Division of Student Affairs is taking shape, with the appointment of Allison Alden, assistant professor of public administration, as director.

In the planning stages for a few years, development of the center’s mission has been a thoughtful process that has involved faculty, community partners, students and administrators, according to Brian Rose, vice president for student affairs.

“We want to cultivate more opportunities for students to be involved in service-learning — or experiential-learning — activities,” he said. “We’re particularly interested in course-based service learning because it will provide additional, in-depth opportunities for students to get real-world experience applying classroom theory. We think that will give our students a competitive advantage upon graduation.

“Two chief tenets of Binghamton’s current strategic plan are academic excellence and engagement and outreach,” Rose added. “This project very clearly serves both of those objectives. In a time where we face a loss of resources, it is imperative that Student Affairs programs align closely with the University’s core academic mission and strategic focus.”

Alden, who will maintain her teaching responsibilities in public administration through the end of the semester, begins her duties as director of the center on March 22. Her background with the University and working in the community on projects such as the Center City Coordination (C3) Project of a few years ago, have prepared her for the position.

“This is exciting because we get to build the center from the ground up,” she said, “and since I have been on this campus for almost 25 years in a variety of capacities, I’m in a particularly good place to understand how to take this to the next level.”

The center will foster partnerships between the community and the University, creating solutions to community problems while providing learning experiences for students. The timing couldn’t be more right, Alden said.

“For years, students, faculty and staff have been involved in excellent experiential projects, but what has been lacking is a centralized unit to support and expand on them — a central coordination function,” she said. “Community members have sometimes given up because there’s no central number to call, no database to pull from.”

Another factor that has limited strong connections with the community, as well as the potential for many projects, is the artificial semester timeframe, Alden said.

“Because of our semester-based process, we’ve artificially truncated problems into three- or four-month activities, which is not a realistic timeframe for some of the larger, more complex and persistent problems that exist,” she said. “Now, relationships can be maintained through the center and if we have a significant community challenge, we can maintain our connections over a year or more and apply our resources such as student assistance, knowledge and skills from many departments across campus in a more comprehensive way, with a longer-term impact.

“With the center, if you look at this from a resource perspective, it’s about efficiency, and if you look at it from the human perspective, it’s about effectiveness,” she added.

“This is still all about civic engagement at a local and global level, and we’re also talking about the University community, not just external ones. We are a community unto ourselves and we need to think about student engagement on campus as well.”

Alden’s first task as center director will be to create an advisory board to include representation from all stakeholders.

“My sense is that early on, we’ll do a basic assessment of where we currently stand, identify the gaps and needs, where can we consolidate resources rather than work independently,” she said. “What are the priorities from a community perspective and how do you sustain these efforts? From the very beginning, we want to build all of that into this center. This is about building relationships with people who want to be engaged.”

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Last Updated: 10/14/08