“Faculty, staff, and student organizations in the Environmental Design Program have adopted community engagement as a central guiding principle, core value and defining mark of national distinction”
Thematically, The Program in Environmental Design orients engagement to the creation of healthy and sustainable communities with attention to social justice and economic vitality. Paradigmatically, it favors and supports interdisciplinary approaches that synergistically bring together contributions from within and outside of the program.
Environmental design is inherently place-based. It supports innovation of and intervention in places. Efficacy and ethics demand that environmental design engages with the users of these places. We do so in ways that are both collaborative and interdisciplinary and that integrate engaged scholarship, evidence-based practice, and experiential learning to serve community needs.
Community engagement builds on existing ENVD strengths. These strengths are evident in, for example, its courses offerings, the value placed on studio instruction, the required 9-credit praxis semester, students’ post-graduation experiences, faculty track records in applied research and creative work, activities of the CYE Center, testimonials from alumni, and positive outcomes reported by community partners locally, regionally, and internationally. Through these strengths, ENVD makes significant contributions to the campus role and mission.
Community engagement aligns with campus priorities:
Flagship 2030; The Campus Strategic Plan (Oct. 2007). Its tagline, “Serving Colorado, Engaged in the World,” reflects “a strong commitment to serving the needs of Colorado while simultaneously becoming a global presence in education and discovery for the benefit of the larger world.” It announces the creation of “a coordinated, targeted, and expanded outreach program” and lays the foundation for “transformative Flagship initiatives that call for incorporating experiential learning more broadly into every student’s education and transcending traditional academic boundaries. ”Diversity, intercultural understanding, and community engagement” are a central theme for Flagship 2030 (p. 4). Our engagement practices advance this theme by enhancing cultural competence, supporting underserved populations, and fostering a diverse student body.
Chancellor’s Progress Report: Flagship 2030 Strategic Plan (Jan. 2013). Action plans for the next 18-36 months include “a feasibility study to determine the infrastructure, leadership, timetable and budget necessary to have an experiential education requirement of 3–6 credits in place for entering freshmen by AY 2018” (p.3), augmentation of “current and new community engagement programs” (p. 5), and advancement of faculty outreach activities (p. 8) ENVD’s praxis semester is at the forefront of these action plans.
Provost’s Strategic Priorities for Academic Affairs. (March 2013). Two of the three priorities specify, resp., identifying and implementing “contemporary best practices to promote student success” and development of “academic and educationally innovative programs that will further differentiate CU Boulder as a national leader in teaching, curricular, and scholarly innovation.” Research shows the promise of engagement for student success and academic innovation.
Students benefit from experiential education that engages them in community settings. Students involved in service learning have higher GPAs, lower drop-out and faster graduation rates. They also demonstrate improved academic content knowledge, critical thinking skills, written and verbal communication, and leadership skills, making them more employable.
Students want courses that involve them in the real world. In a recent survey, 88% of ENVD students stated they want more courses that involve them in real-world projects. National data also show increasing student demand for course-based CE. An aspiration to relevance and a need to respond to market demand require a curriculum that gives prominence to CE.