Civic Pathways: Nurturing Informed and Engaged Houstonians Across our Institutions of Higher Education
In Fall 2014 and Fall 2015, with a grant from the Simmons foundation, CPD and its partners will involve approximately 480 university and community college students, faculty, staff, administrators and community members representing various ethnic, racial, religious and political backgrounds in "Democratic Deliberation Forums", a series of eight, two-hour meetings which will take place at UHD and Lone Star College-Kingwood (LSC-Kingwood). These forums, which will be facilitated by Student Associates who are UHD communications students, will immerse participants in topics that are important and timely to our community as well as give them an opportunity to practice democratic deliberation.
The CPD and its partners will use the process recommended by National Issues Forum guides, "Linked Futures: Higher Education and the Changing World of Work" and "Immigration in America: How Do We Fix a System in Crisis?" This process was chosen because of its proven ability to create important relationships, build capacity and facilitate productive conversation between diverse community members in a variety of contexts.
Hosting and facilitating democratic learning forums are vital steps in order to provide participants with essential building tools that support the generation of democratic knowledge, enable them to cross the boundaries of academic disciplines, allow facilitation of global understanding and provide models of democratic learning. With focused effort, college and university public engagement can be strengthened and improved.
In addition to the benefit learning forums provide to the community and individual citizens, data compiled by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities indicates that 12 percent of its campuses identified the retention and success of undergraduates as a dimension of their community engagement strategy. Student retention and graduation are key objectives of UHD's strategic plan, as well as a high priority of LSC-Kingwood.
Project collaborators include: UHD's Center for Family Strengths, American Commonwealth Partnership (collaborates between national organizations and colleges committed to advancing democratic engagement), LSC-Kingwood; National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (facilitates full participation of Latinos in the American political process); League of Women Voters (UHD Citizenship Month participant) and the Kettering Foundation (nonprofit seeking to identify and address the challenges in making democracy work).
UHD's partnership with LSC-Kingwood is key in forming civic pathways and tracking student engagement levels. Research indicates that students at two-year institutions are exposed to democratic learning during their enrollment, but this experience ends when they leave the institution to enter the workforce or matriculate to a four-year institution. By partnering with UHD, students at LSC-Kingwood will have opportunities to continue and sustain their interest in civic engagement after they complete their associates degree.
A total of eight forums--four at UHD and four at Lone Star College—will be held in October and November 2014 and 2015. So that participants from both institutions will have the opportunity to interact, UHD students will travel to the LSC-Kingwood and vice versa. UHD and LSC-Kingwood will continue to partner for this project for both years.
The forums will be led over two years by a total of 16-20 UHD Student Associate facilitators who have agreed to participate in the forums as part of their directed study course. In preparation, these students have completed the course: Facilitating Public Deliberation, which emphasizes development of civic engagement and facilitation skills. After completion of the course, students will have the opportunity to participate in a five-week training course to further their ability to organize, facilitate and report on the forums.
The overarching goal for this initiative is to build the capacity of students, faculty, staff and citizens to engage in democratic learning, to build justice-oriented models for change, and to establish a network of student leader/citizens who are engaged in their communities and more informed participants in the democratic process.
- Expand college students perceptions at both two-year and four-year institutions of higher education from a narrow view of politics emphasizing voting and representative politics, to a more expansive view of students' roles, including seeing themselves as active agents in their communities.
- Strengthen college students' political efficacy
- Build a "civic pathway" between a two-year institution and four-year institution in order to share resources between institutions, mentor two-year students, and create a more continues "civic experience"
- Increase understanding about various public problems
- Expand the understanding of who can help solve our community problems
- Increase commitment to finding common ground on public issues
- Build confidence so that members with diverse views can converse about difficult subjects
- Empower participants to develop ideas and work together for action to address their concerns
- Build student's civic skills and knowledge by supporting students in their development of high-quality deliberation skills
- Develop better understanding and work to build trust between participants engaged in controversial issue discussion
- As part of its existing partnership with LSC-Kingwood, UHD has an articulation agreement that allows students to complete their four-year degrees at LSC-Kingwood. A tertiary goal of these forums is to support the retention and graduation of UHD and LSC-Kingwood students in their matriculation from a two-year to a four-year institution through their personal engagement in the learning process.