About the Center

Social teaching in the Catholic tradition expresses that the measure of an institution is whether it threatens or enhances the life and dignity of the human person. At Saint Michael's we are guided by this principle as we shape our academic work to be responsive to the conditions, problems, and needs of our communities. Our work is primarily focused on our immediate communities of Burlington and Winooski; however, other areas in Vermont, and international venues are often a part of our work as we respond to the needs of the community and pursue the academic interests of both students and faculty.

The social and environmental issues that challenge us today run deep and are complex. As allies with the community, we are interested in bringing fresh energy and insights to the community as we learn about, complement, and expand the positive work already being done by the community itself. We seek to respect the resources, knowledge, and skills that community members already possess while pursuing projects which match the scholarly interests of students and faculty.

presidents honor roll In 2011, the college was awarded the prestigious Carnegie "Community Engagement" classification for "excellent alignment among mission, culture, leadership, resources, and practices that support dynamic and noteworthy community engagement."  The Center supports Saint Michael's goal of graduating students with a passion for the intellectual life, a commitment to moral responsibility, and a desire to improve the human condition through socially conscious citizenship.

Carnegie Foundation

What is community-engaged learning?

The practice of community-engaged learning (CEL) rests on the fundamental belief that purposeful activities which engage students with the community can improve the ways students learn content. We do this by linking theory to application, action to reflection, and the individual to the community through guided curricular opportunities. We believe there is a valuable synergy in combining practical community-based experience with academic study: each has something to offer beyond what might be gained if pursued separately. CEL can be described as a student-centered, interactive, experiential educational endeavor, but it is also clearly characterized by community-focused, action-based activity. We seek to move from witness and an emotional awareness of the conditions that exist in our society to intellectual awareness and informed action.

Many students and faculty bring to Saint Michael's a rich experience with serving the community through volunteer work, outreach, mentoring, fundraising efforts, philanthropy, advocacy, or sitting on public or non-profit boards and committees. Saint Michael's doesn't expect students and faculty to leave these impulses outside the classroom door. Indeed, a concern for the welfare of others and for the planet we inhabit is an essential component to the development of the moral person. Community-engaged learning courses allow faculty to bring community concerns into the classroom in a variety of ways including service-learning, community-based/participatory action research, or through political engagement and advocacy.

How is academic service-learning different than community service, volunteerism, or charity?

Service-learning is a credit-bearing, educational experience in which students in an academic course participate in a thoughtfully organized service activity that meets identified community needs. Students reflect on the service activity in such a way as to gain further understanding of course content, a broader appreciation of the discipline, its connection to relevant social issues, and an enhanced sense of civic responsibility. Co-curricular volunteer activities, such as those sponsored by our popular MOVE (Mobilization of Volunteer Efforts) Office, are not connected to a course or academic discipline, though, like CEL, they encourage participants to explore societal issues, nurture compassion, and develop moral responsibility.

How is community-based research different than traditional research?

Community-based research (CBR) proceeds with and for the community (while traditional research is done on or about the community). Rather than being shaped solely by the individual researcher’s interests, CBR is characterized by students, professors, and the community working together to identify a pressing issue or inquiry, articulate research questions, develop research instruments, gather and examine data, interpret results, and determine how the information can be used to initiate change or benefit the community. The extent to which each stakeholder contributes to each phase of the research is determined jointly, and all contributors are seen as fellow learners, researchers, and collaborators. This form of research often employs the methodology of participatory or community action research. Ultimately, the work is designed to be of value to a particular community and contribute to the betterment of that community which lends both relevancy and authenticity to the project.

How is course-based advocacy different than individual or group activism?

Course-based advocacy or political engagement is characterized by action which is grounded in and guided by critical discussion and research of an urgent social, economic, or environmental circumstance. In considering the causes and conditions relevant to under-represented or disadvantaged populations affected by these circumstances, students become more informed about societal problems, come to see them as their own, and explore avenues for using their voices to become agents for change. Students might conduct research for advocacy groups in the community, introduce resolutions, track and contribute to policy initiatives, or mount awareness/solidarity campaigns with or on behalf of under-represented/disadvantaged stakeholders. The experience is designed to emphasize the fundamental role activism plays in a democracy.

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