SJR Column: Community Engagement, May 2013

Yesterday was a very big day for the students, faculty and staff of the Springfield campus of the University of Illinois. Commencement! For the 777 graduates who walked across the stage to shake hands with the Chancellor, the 2013 commencement was the culmination of dozens of classes taken, hundreds of assignments submitted, and most likely significant financial resources invested in an exceedingly valuable credential.

For a large number of our graduates, commencement also represents hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of hours of civic engagement. A core element in the mission of our university is to serve our community – and UIS students do so in dozens of ways. Our goal is to make civic engagement a part of the educational experience for every student, preparing students to do the “work” of citizenship wherever they may go after graduation. I recently had the opportunity to meet three UIS students who are doing just that.

LaNee Wood, a Criminal Justice major just finishing her freshman year, is already engaged in the Springfield community. LaNee chose to live in the Leadership for Life Wing (L4L) in Lincoln Residence Hall this year. Students admitted to L4L live together, take a service learning class together and commit to doing service together during the year. LaNee has been heavily involved with Habitat for Humanity and will be President of the UIS Habitat for Humanity Club next year. She’ll be volunteering for a week this month along with several other UIS students rebuilding homes that were destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. LaNee is also one of the founders of a student organization called “Sassy Intellectual Sisters,” a mentoring group working with high school students. “My mother and stepfather have been a great influence on me,” says LaNee; “We do service as a family, so being involved with service at UIS was a natural for me.”

Sean Vaughan is a first-generation college student from Chicago with three younger siblings. A sophomore, Sean tells me he “accidentally” signed up for L4L his freshman year and “…it was the best mistake ever!” Sean served as an L4L mentor this year and has also been volunteering in the Making the Grade program –meeting with students at Lanphier High School to provide mentoring, encouragement and academic support. He will be a Leadership for Life resident assistant next year. Sean’s career goals include creating a business to rehabilitate buildings in his community and making the community a better place.

Angela Staten is a senior Biology major from the Springfield area who has a passion for sustainability and ecology and is just back from the UIS Alternative Spring Break trip. She is one of nearly 30 students who spent a week in the Florida Everglades helping to remove invasive plants species from fragile areas. “I made a lot of lasting bonds with the kids that were involved and you learn a lot about yourself in the process,” says Angela. “My time spent volunteering was life-altering.”

Dr. Mark Dochterman is the Director of the UIS Volunteer & Civic Engagement Center – our point person for civic engagement. Mark is quick to point out that opportunities for service and civic engagement are really valuable leadership opportunities that help students develop skills that transfer directly to their future profession at the same time they develop awareness of important social issues and contribute to solving community problems

A few weeks ago the University of Illinois Springfield was named to the President’s Community Service Honor Roll – one of the highest national recognitions a college or university can receive for its commitment to civic engagement. We are on the leading edge of a much larger movement in higher education that last year included 3.1 million student volunteers and 118 million hours of community service valued at $2.5 billion. UIS students contributed about 65,000 hours, the equivalent of over $1 million, to those totals.

As Chancellor at UIS, I’m proud of the role that our students, faculty and staff play in solving community problems.

I’m equally proud that we are placing students on a lifelong path of active citizenship.

Susan J. Koch, Chancellor of University of Illinois Springfield

Chancellor Susan J. Koch