Institute Spotlight: Institute for Ethical and Civic Engagement

April 22, 2008
By Corey H. Jones, junior, School of Journalism and Mass Communicaton

Encompassing a strong source of vitality, the institutes at CU-Boulder foster highly specialized environments while creating exclusive and exciting educational experiences for faculty and students. Part seven of this series features the Institute for Ethical and Civic Engagement. Although not a research institute, IECE exposes students to pertinent concerns that impact different communities, both locally and globally.

Established in 2005, the Institute for Ethical and Civic Engagement ( IECE ) serves as a catalyst for nurturing ethical and civic engagement opportunities at CU-Boulder. "The university has great resources and expertise and this is a wonderful way to help students apply what they learn to benefit the community," Director Peter Simons said. "This makes learning come alive for students and it helps our community too."

Created as a facilitating unit to both expand CU's existing civic engagement programs and develop new ones, IECE helps students enhance their classroom knowledge by applying it to outside activities. Simons calls it "scholarship of engagement." The academically focused institute provides support, funding and promotion for a number of separate programs on campus, including INVST Community Studies, a number of residential academic programs and academic programs in a variety of colleges and schools. IECE currently manages eight programs of its own as well.

IECE's Course Development and Academic Projects program has funded 33 courses, projects and workshops that integrate ethical inquiry or civic engagement. Courses have included Business Applications of Social Responsibility, Theatre for Social Change and Service Learning in Grant Writing.

CU schools and colleges can also organize a Model Project, which is a more intensive effort to incorporate the concept of civic and social responsibility. For example, the School of Journalism and Mass Communication recently developed a four-course certificate program with additional symposia and research opportunities.

IECE hosts workshops, conferences and seminars through its Education and Training program. These sessions are meant to equip faculty, staff and students with different avenues to pursue civic engagement.

The Puksta Scholars program, a non-academic scholarship program, recruits students who are deeply committed to civic action and willing to perform service that goes beyond basic volunteering. "We want them to really push the envelope by taking on leadership roles and developing projects," Simons said.

The institute also administers CU's Peace Corps Program. Roughly 100 CU graduates currently serve in the Peace Corps, a number that ranks third among all U.S. colleges and universities.

IECE participates in Access Colorado, a statewide initiative that addresses issues regarding retention, success and access to higher education for underserved and low-income students from Boulder Valley Public Schools.

The institute also operates the Public Interest Internship Experience program ( PIIE ), which provides paid summer internships with government and nonprofit agencies.

"Our programs offer exciting work, and it makes what students are learning more meaningful," Simons said.

Junior Andra Wilkinson serves as a student member on IECE's advisory board. "I firmly believe that learning is not just a cerebral activity," she said. "Education cannot just occur in the classroom. Visceral learning must be sought through students' interactions with their community."

While pursuing an integrative physiology degree and a minor in women and gender studies, Wilkinson's commitments include participating in the President's Leadership Class , volunteering for Clinica Salud and serving on the Women's Resource Center's advisory board.

As a Puksta Scholar, she is now working to create a men's resource center on campus to provide a community where men can discuss masculinity and its impact on their lives. "Puksta not only creates a community of like-minded and yet diverse peers, but it also gives every member of the community the freedom to explore their passions, issues on campus and in the community, and how they as individuals can make a difference," she said.

IECE also organizes other campus activities, including Constitution Day events, such as a debate, quiz and art competition. The institute will help facilitate the Buffalo Can Challenge on April 25, 2008, to help raise hunger awareness and collect food donations.

After almost three years of operation, Simons said he hopes that IECE can continue to expand and help further CU's goal of serving society. "We believe civic engagement should be a core part of the university's mission and education," said Simons. "Our democratic society relies on citizens who are informed and engaged."

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