Published: March 11, 2009

University of Colorado at Boulder junior David Hinojosa is one of thousands of CU-Boulder students who are annually making a difference in their communities through civic engagement.

Hinojosa coordinates the Student Worker Alliance Program, a student group at CU-Boulder that helps campus service workers integrate into the community by teaching them English. He trains student volunteers to teach English classes to non-English speakers, and has coordinated more than 100 classes on campus while recruiting more students and volunteers to work with the program.

He also has volunteered his time and energy to work with the homeless population in Denver and the Four Corners area and has been active in environmental sustainability and social issues as well as working on a service project on the Navajo Indian Reservation.

On March 17, CU-Boulder's Institute for Civic and Ethical Engagement will give its first Serving Communities Awards, and Hinojosa is one of the recipients.

Other recipients of the new $500 award include Debra Flanders Cushing, a doctoral student and instructor of environmental design in the College of Architecture and Planning, Professor Melissa Hart of the CU School of Law and Ann Scarritt, director of the McNeill Math Program at CU-Boulder.

"Civic engagement is reaching out and doing something for the common good, and it can be anything from helping your neighbor to volunteering at your local food bank, working on political issues or policy issues, or even going to another country to volunteer through a program such as the Peace Corps," said Peter Simons, director of CU-Boulder's Institute for Ethical and Civic Engagement. "Our long-term goal is to have all of our 30,000 students civically engaged in one way or another."

More than 13,000 students on the CU-Boulder campus are civically engaged in some way, either through class work, programs, student group activities or on their own, according to Simons.

The Institute for Ethical and Civic Engagement has nine programs and serves as a catalyst and facilitator to make civic engagement a core part of the education and mission of the university. The institute, along with the Service Learning Office, provides funding to faculty to develop courses that integrate civic engagement into the curriculum in schools, colleges and departments across the campus.

"Doing this kind of work is where my heart and passion are," Hinojosa said. "It also is very important to recognize how fortunate we are to be at a university with an opportunity to better ourselves, and I think working with others who may not be as lucky as we are should be a vital part of education at this level."

Flanders Cushing is teaching one of several courses on campus that incorporate civic engagement into the theme of the class. A doctoral student, she is teaching a course titled Designing with Multicultural Youth: Using Multimedia Techniques for Social Change during the spring semester.

She designed and taught a similar course in fall 2008 with the goal of bringing CU-Boulder architecture students together with students from multicultural backgrounds in the local community to define a "youth-friendly community" for a multicultural population. The idea was to partner her students with young community members and use multimedia methods to "document the voices and views of diverse youth in advocating social and physical change in their communities," she said.

"The main goal of the course this spring is to get our students thinking about designing public spaces for a multicultural population, and to have our students work with young people in our local schools and community to figure out how to best do that," Flanders Cushing said.

Hart coordinates the CU law school's Public Service Pledge Program to connect law students who are interested in public service with organizations and lawyers who need pro bono assistants. Law students can join the program at any time in their law school careers and pledge to give a minimum of 50 hours of legal service. The effort has strengthened campus-community relationships and helped to foster the civic mission of CU-Boulder.

As director of the McNeill Math Program, Scarritt has worked on campus and off to help make her community a better place. She is secretary of the Boulder Community United group, a coalition of community members that makes recommendations to the city of Boulder in regard to hate crimes and incidents involving bias. She also was crucial to the start and continuing development of the Bias Incident Hotline Project, which is a grassroots community project intended to help eliminate oppression and bias in Boulder.

In 2009, CU-Boulder ranked No. 2 on the Peace Corps' top 25 list of large schools producing the greatest number of volunteers with 102. Since the Peace Corps' inception, 2,157 CU-Boulder alumni have served in the Peace Corps, making it the No. 5 all-time producer of volunteers.

CU-Boulder also was featured in the 2009 book "The Guide to Service Learning Colleges and Universities" that highlighted schools with significant track records of integrating community service with academic study to enrich learning, teach civic responsibility and strengthen communities. In 2008 CU-Boulder was one of three schools in the nation to receive a Presidential Award for General Community Service given by the Corporation for National and Community Service.

"Not only does the university have a civic mission to help the communities that it serves, but it has a mission to help graduate students who are civically and socially responsible, and who will do this civic engagement service as an ongoing activity throughout their lives," said Simons.

For more information about civic engagement at CU-Boulder, visit the Institute for Ethical and Civic Engagement's Web site at