The Writing Initiative for Service and Engagement (WISE)

Through the PWR’s Writing Initiative for Service and Engagement (WISE), founded in 2008, the program has integrated community-engaged writing throughout its lower- and upper-division courses. Students in WISE course sections research and produce written, spoken, digital, and/or multimedia projects about, with, and for university and community-based organizations that deal with social issues such as literacy, poverty, food, and sustainability. Courses combine traditional academic research and readings with community-based work to enrich the educational experience and encourage students to understand real world applications of rhetorical situations and theories. While WISE courses meet all traditional PWR course goals appropriate to the course number, additional learning objectives might include that a student be able to:

  1. Balance theory and research with analysis of community-based experiences
  2. Recognize and analyze correlations between theoretical concepts and community experiences
  3. Produce writing that effectively responds to or addresses a community need
  4. Distinguish individual manifestations of a problem from the systemic, root causes
  5. Assess rhetorical circumstances in the public sphere and intervene appropriately through writing and civic action
  6. Create purpose-driven documents for audiences beyond the classroom

Instructors, students, community members, or nonprofit agencies with questions about the University of Colorado WISE Project can contact the project's founder by email or mail:

What are community-engaged writing courses?

Community-engaged writing courses integrate academic instruction with educationally meaningful community-centered work that is appropriate to curricular goals in order to enrich and enhance the learning experience, teach community engagement, and meet community-defined needs.

Why promote community-engaged writing?

Fifteen years of assessment on the academic impacts of community-engaged work in rhetoric and composition classes indicate that community-engaged composition students demonstrate higher levels of rhetorical awareness, understanding of counterarguments, understanding of how to tailor language to particular contexts and particular audiences, and understanding of the complexity of arguments than do students in traditional composition courses.

Assessment studies indicate that community-engaged learning aids in student recruitment, retention, graduation rate, career preparedness, and job placement. Community-engaged students are more likely to remain in the state and give to their alma mater at higher levels.

PWR courses that have contained a community-engaged writing component include:

First-Year Writing and Rhetoric; Grant Writing; Business Writing; Technical Communication and Design; Environmental Writing; Rhetorics of Sustainability; Travel Writing; Civic Engagement and New Media; Conversations on the Law; Cross-Cultural Writing for International Students; Food and Culture; Multi-Cultural Rhetorics; On the Border: U.S. and Mexico; Field Studies in Civic Engagement; Then and Now: The West; Composing a Civic Life, and many more.


Each year, about 30 writing faculty members teach over 1,200 students in our WISE classes. These students contribute more than 10,000 hours to community writing projects and research.

In 2016, the Program for Writing and Rhetoric was honored by Campus Compact with the “Engaged Department Award.”

The Program for Writing and Rhetoric hosted the first two Conferences on Community Writing in 2015 and 2017. The 2017 conference welcomed 436 attendees from 48 states and 3 countries, representing 207 colleges, universities, and community organizations.

PWR faculty members facilitate service-learning workshops for faculty at universities and colleges across the state.

Six Program for Writing and Rhetoric faculty led a half-day pre-conference workshop at the CCCCs in 2012 entitled “Becoming Engaged: Service-Learning and Civic Engagement Program and Course Design.”

Resources for Designing a Service-Learning Course

If you are a writing program administrator or an instructor interested in designing community-engaged courses for your higher education institution based on the pedagogy of the WISE project, please download this resource guide.