The evolution and future of student engagement at Penn State.

Task Force on Service Learning and Student Engagement Established

The Vice Presidents of Undergraduate Education, Student Affairs, and Outreach established a task force on service learning and student engagement. It explored the opportunities for a coordinated University approach to service learning, as well as curricular and co-curricular undergraduate student engagement. The task force delivered a final report in 2012 that envisioned access to student engagement experiences for all Penn State students. The task force recommended the creation of a center for student engagement in order to coordinate, highlight, and manage engagement across the University.

Task Force on Internships Established

The task force on internships gathered information about the patterns of undergraduate internship participation and the support infrastructure throughout the Penn State system. In 2012, the task force delivered a report indicating half (52%) of Penn State students surveyed had participated in internships. Additionally, concerns were raised about the lack of “comprehensive student guidelines, standards for judging student performance, and mechanisms for tracking students and assessing the impact of internships.” Special note was made regarding the unknown number of internships that were not taken for academic credit and the generally decentralized nature of internships, on the whole, at the University.

Task Force on Undergraduate Research Established

The task force on undergraduate research determined the scope of undergraduate research across the University over time. It also identified best practices associated with such engaged experiences in terms of credit allocation, compensation, student support services, and risk management. The task force delivered an informational report in 2013 indicating that over a period of ten years (Fall 2001 to Spring 2012), “Penn State faculty provided 68,428 individual research experiences to undergraduate students,” of which 14,298 experiences (21%) were “Research Project” (i.e, 294 and 494) courses and 54,122 experiences (79%) were “Independent Studies” (i.e. 296 and 496) courses. Special note was made with regard to the unknown number of independent, undergraduate research experiences undertaken by students not for academic credit and the generally decentralized nature of undergraduate research, on the whole, in the University.

Engaged Scholarship Initiative Created

The engaged scholarship initiative was formed to elevate the profile of engaged scholarship and expand its availability to Penn State students. An important outcome of this initiative was, by charge of University leadership, the foundation of the Council on Engaged Scholarship (COES). With 35 sitting members drawn from students, faculty members, staff, and the administration, the Council was led by five committees composed of nearly 70 individuals. Reviewing many facets of engaged scholarship and preparing numerous working documents, the council was a productive force with one end in mind—to establish Penn State as the leading public institution for undergraduate engaged scholarship and to ensure that every undergraduate student have the opportunity to participate in at least one (if not multiple) engaged scholarship experiences before graduation.

Senate Standing Committees Charged with Delivery of Reports

COES Chair Careen Yarnal charged nine of the Senate’s 15 standing committees—Curricular Affairs, Educational Equity and Campus Environment, Faculty Affairs, Global Programs, Outreach, Research, Student Life, Undergraduate Education, and University Planning—to deliver short informational reports on engaged scholarship as it pertained to each of the committees. The reports, once combined into a composite informational report, were delivered in 2014 and revealed the Senate’s skeptical but supportive stance on engaged scholarship. An important outcome of this effort was the opportunity to communicate the Senate’s position on engaged scholarship to the incoming president.

Advisory and Consultative Report Developed

This effort culminated in an advisory and consultative report in 2014 that made the following five recommendations: 1) Clarify the definition, vision, and strategic goals of engaged scholarship and create an inventory of present activities in engaged scholarship courses and experiences; 2) Develop and invest in mechanisms and resources for expanded opportunities for students to participate in engaged scholarship; for example, through courses, undergraduate research, and global programs; 3) Invest in a clearly identified central entity to support engaged scholarship across the University; 4) Create mechanisms and resources to prepare, support, recognize, and reward faculty for engaged scholarship; 5) Identify mechanisms and resources for showcasing the importance, providing recognition for, and evaluating engaged scholarship courses and experiences; 6) The University Faculty Senate, in turn, voted to affirm the advisory and consultative report delivered by an unprecedented collaboration between nine standing Senate committees.

Student Engagement Announced as Presidential Imperative

President Eric Barron joined the University and introduced imperatives shaping educational priorities. As one of the imperatives, “student engagement” was defined as “out-of-class activities that promote student success.”  During the inaugural Engaged Scholarship Symposium, also in 2014, student engagement was formally and publicly defined at the University to be “out-of-classroom academic experiences that complement classroom learning.”

COES Progress Report Presented to Faculty Senate

The Council on Engaged Scholarship presented a progress report to the Senate indicating that “the primary goal of the engaged scholarship initiative [was] to provide every undergraduate student with the opportunity to have at least one engaged scholarship experience by 2020.”

Student Engagement Network Formed

The Student Engagement Network was formed as a joint initiative by Undergraduate Education, Student Affairs, and Outreach and Online Education. The network’s foremost aim is to enhance curricular and co-curricular opportunities for Penn State undergraduate students through student engagement. Important facets of this effort include the creation of an engagement hub, an online interactive portal through which students can learn about engagement opportunities, forming and steering a Faculty Academy, and administering a student grant program.

Faculty Senate Special Committee Charged with Framework Development

Senate Chair James Strauss charged the University Faculty Senate Special Committee to recommend a University-wide recognition framework in support of President Barron’s educational imperative for student engagement.

Student Engagement Network Programs and Website Launched

In 2017, the following programs were launched: Faculty Academy, Student Grant Program and the Student Internship Program. In addition, the Student Engagement Network website was launched in the summer of 2017.

Engagement Space Construction Underway

Construction of the permanent Engagement Space in the HUB-Robeson Center at University Park will commence in 2018.

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