Duke Launches Experiential Certificate in Civic Engagement and Social Change

Coming Spring 2016, Duke is launching the undergraduate Certificate in Civic Engagement and Social Change. Offering students a pathway to integrate community-based learning experiences with academic coursework, the CCESC will be Duke’s second experiential certificate, following the launch of the Experiential Certificate in Innovation and Entrepreneurship in 2014. Distinguishable from Duke’s traditional certificate programs, these certificates both incorporate two practical experiential learning activities, of 300 and 150 hours each. For the CCESC, students will select two different, but thematically-related service experiences with community partners that directly focus on promoting social change, civic involvement, and civic responsibility. To complement their hands-on activities, students will take a gateway course, a selection of thematically-related electives, and a capstone course, all of which invite them to integrate knowledge and practice through critical reflection.

With the proliferation of students participating in co-curricular civic engagement programs at Duke, such as DukeEngage, in recent years, the CCESC provides an unprecedented opportunity to engage their service experiences through rigorous academic study.  “The new experiential certificate in civic engagement and social change promises to be an important mechanism for students at Duke who want to connect their out-of-classroom work for the public good to their work in the classroom,” notes Eric Mlyn, Assistant Vice Provost for Civic Engagement and Peter Lange Executive Director of DukeEngage. Students from a variety of disciplines with a shared interest in engaging the world beyond the university walls will have a chance to work together across the varied arenas of social change – environment, education, public health, and more – to hone in on the shared challenges and critical issues that bind their work together.

One of the certificate’s most noteworthy contributions to the conversation on civic engagement at Duke are two new courses that have been developed for the certificate program: a gateway, entitled Engaged Citizenship and Social Change to be taught by Eric Mlyn, and a capstone course on Lives of Civic Engagement to be taught by David Malone. In the gateway, students will encounter the key terms and concepts of democracy and citizenship, gain familiarity with the historical, social and philosophical foundations of civic engagement, and explore the intersections of civic engagement with democratic theory and democratic practice. The capstone will invite students, after having completed their experiences, to revisit the above themes from the gateway, and will provide a chance for them to demonstrate their own theoretically informed praxis through some form of public scholarship. Significantly, this is the first time Duke has offered courses on theoretical underpinnings of civic engagement as a form of academic scholarly inquiry. As we seek to promote a campus-wide culture of engaged students, staff, and scholars, these courses will provide a forum where students can prepare for and reflect upon their community-based learning experiences. Students will also select two elective courses that are thematically related to these experiences from a list of existing courses related to the Certificate’s themes of democracy, citizenship, and political participation; civil society and voluntarism; and social change and social movements.

Furthermore, these certificates represent a shift toward wider-spread recognition of the academic value of civic engagement. While many majors at Duke require an experience of some form toward the completion of their major (e.g. an internship in Public Policy or Global Health), experiential certificates are the first opportunity for Duke students to represent their experiential learning opportunities on their academic transcripts. For many Duke undergraduates, this will mean they can exhibit to future employers and admissions committees their demonstrated commitment to civic engagement, as well as the soft skills these experiences provide them, such as teamwork and problem-solving. In the bigger picture, this shift marks a move toward assigning academic merit for democratic service, a merit which, as Sheryl Grant discussed in last week’s guest post for the DOCE’s blog, remains largely unrecognized in higher education.

Looking toward the future, Eric Mlyn believes the CCESC will make a profound and lasting mark on the educational landscape at Duke: “In the long run, the Duke experiential certificate has the potential to be a truly unique and innovative feature of the Duke undergraduate experience — a pathway connecting students’ academic coursework to real-world problems and real-world solutions.” What fruit the certificate will yield is yet to be seen, but if Mlyn’s prediction is right, the undergraduate Certificate in Civic Engagement and Social Change will help us build a campus community at Duke – undergraduate, graduate, professional, and faculty and staff alike – that is ever more thoughtfully and intentionally civically engaged.