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West Chester University continues to be recognized for its community involvement, most recently by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, which has included WCU in its 2010 Community Engagement Classification.
West Chester is one of only eight Pennsylvania universities to receive the classification this year. Of the 4,160 U.S. institutions of higher education, only 115 earned this prestigious classification this year.
Colleges and universities with an institutional focus on community engagement were invited to apply and submit required documentation describing the nature and extent of their engagement with the community. In order to be selected, institutions had to provide descriptions and examples of institutionalized practices of community engagement that showed alignment among mission, culture, leadership, resources and practices.
The Carnegie Community Engagement Classification defines community engagement as “the collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities (local, regional/state, national, global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity.”
Among the WCU community engagement commitments that were part of the University’s successful application:
• Adapted Physical Education/Camp Abilities, a 23-year-old nationally recognized initiative, serves special needs children from Brian’s House and from local families. It is directed by kinesiology professor Monica Lepore and engages 150 West Chester University students annually.
• Tutoring at-risk Hispanic children, coordinated by College of Education professor Gail Bollin, gives children whose parents do not speak English the help they need outside the classroom. The at-risk children are passing to the next grade and 120 West Chester University students per year get exceptional experience and understanding of an inclusive classroom. The program has been in effect for more than 15 years.
• WCU’s Chapter of Colleges Against Cancer annually organizes a Relay for Life, bringing together about 500 students as well as faculty, staff and the local community to fundraise, fight cancer and celebrate survivors.
• Special education students become “Best Buddies” with an individual with special needs through the ARC of Chester County. The pairs benefit from companionship, activities and outings. About 20 students take part each year; the program has been active for 15 years.
• Camp Dreamcatcher, a camp for children whose lives are affected by HIV/AIDS, has benefited from fundraising and direct interaction by members of the University’s fraternities and sororities for 13 years. Approximately 600 West Chester students are involved annually. To date they have raised $364,000 to send children to this special camp.
• Bear Fair, a holiday event, has brought joy to tens of thousands of children in its 13 years. Students have collected and distributed more than 41,000 teddy bears through agencies and hospitals in the Philadelphia region. Each year, a committee of students and a few alumni oversee the collection, which is stimulated by the participation of more than 200 students.
• WCU’s Office of Service Learning and Volunteer Programs has placed after-school tutors with the Care Center for 20 years. In an April 2010 thank you letter, the Care Center noted, “Without your students, the Care Center’s program would not survive. With the students’ help, we are able to support the needs of families who fail to qualify for state services. It is the students who assist us in bridging the gap by providing services to this needy population.” The program engages about 100 WCU students a year.
Maggie Tripp, director of the Office of Service Learning and Volunteer Programs, estimates that approximately 5,000 WCU students participate in documented volunteer activities each year, “and that’s a conservative estimate.” Documented volunteer hours and projects are from service-learning classes, student organizations, residence halls and athletes. There is currently no way to track the volunteer hours by individual students. In each of the past three years, more than 200,000 hours of service have been compiled by WCU students.
In 2009-2010, West Chester offered more than 80 for-credit service-learning courses, representing 60 percent of all academic departments. Tripp’s office works with 110 regional non-profits.
Participation in the Community Engagement Classification is elective. This year, 305 institutions registered to receive the application, up from 217 in 2008; 154 institutions applied to document community engagement, up from 147 in 2008. Of the total applications, 115 were successfully classified as community-engaged institutions.
The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching is an independent policy and research center that supports needed transformations in American education.