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President of the University delivering a speech to an audience.

President Larry Dietz speaks in fall 2017 at the ribbon cutting for the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning.

Illinois State University earns Carnegie Foundation’s national community engagement designation

Illinois State University has received the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching’s Elective Classification for Community Engagement. The designation came after Illinois State completed an extensive application process involving data collection and documentation of the University’s commitment to community engagement.

“Civic Engagement is a core value of this University, and I am pleased that the Carnegie Foundation has recognized our commitment and efforts by awarding the University the Elective Classification for Community Engagement,” said Illinois State University President Larry Dietz. “Shortly after becoming president, I initiated plans to create the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning. Through the center, we support students, faculty, and staff with in-class and out-of-class learning experiences that partner with the community. These experiences are prime examples of how we live our values every day.”

emblem of a tree with the words Carnegie Foundation Elective Community Engagement Classification

Seal of the Carnegie Foundation Elective Community Engagement Classification

The classification lasts for six years. Illinois State will need to apply for reclassification during the 2026 cycle.

The application process for the Elective Classification for Community Engagement is similar to a self-study process for accreditation. The application consisted of nearly 300 individual questions including yes/no, short answer, multiple selection, and narrative responses.

“This designation represents the 107 pages of wonderful community engagement that went into it,” said Christine Bruckner, assistant director of assessment, data management, and grant writing for the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning (CESL). Bruckner led Illinois State’s efforts throughout the application process. “There are so many amazing experiences that Illinois State is offering its students, so many examples we included in the application and others we could not include simply because of word limits. That’s why we need to be proud—it’s not just that we received this designation, it’s what we’ve done with and for our students and community.”

After the application was submitted in April 2019, a National Review Committee reviewed it to determine if Illinois State University qualified for recognition as a community engaged institution. The public announcement of classified institutions was made by the Carnegie Foundation in January 2020.

“It was a long wait,” Bruckner said, “but I was confident in the application and documentation we submitted. I’m thrilled that the wait is over, we received the designation, and that we can continue to move forward in the areas where we would like to improve.”

Illinois State is one of 359 institutions nationwide that now hold the classification. According to Bruckner and Janet Paterson, who served as CESL interim director until her retirement in June 2019, the true value in the application for the Carnegie Elective Classification is in the self-study process involved. “Within the world of higher education, this is a known and understood designation of value and worth,” said Paterson. “It comes, however, after an arduous, intensive, and extremely important process of self-study.”

Through that process, Illinois State was able to determine areas where the institution needs to improve in order to continue to meet national standards in community engagement. Late last summer, Bruckner and Harriett Steinbach, assistant director of service learning at CESL, already began working toward that improvement when they presented the findings from the application to leadership across campus.

“As we’ve gone through this process, we’ve been very clear that this is not an award, and we do not want it to be considered an award,” said Bruckner. “It is recognition for the work that we’ve already done in this field, but also recognition of where we’re going to advance our student learning opportunities, our community, and our faculty scholarship.”

In the early 2000s, the Carnegie Foundation created the Elective Classification for Community Engagement, with the first applications being sent on an invitation-only basis. In 2006 and 2008, institutions could apply for the elective classification within three categories—curricular engagement, outreach and partnerships, or a combination of both.

The classification evolved in 2010 to a single elective classification encompassing an institution’s infrastructure for community engagement, curricular dedication, tenured faculty scholarship, and established campus-community partnerships. This shift also changed the application cycle whereby campuses could only apply for a first-time designation every five years.

The application is updated during each cycle to reflect changes in the field and best practices of community engagement. For example, the 2020 classification sought, for the first time, institutional evidence of cocurricular community engagement and community engaged scholarship of all ranks and classes of faculty and staff.

Illinois State University first applied for the Elective Classification for Community Engagement in 2015 but did not receive the designation.

“We simply didn’t have the infrastructure in place at that point to be able to adequately collect and process data on Illinois State’s community engagement,” Paterson explained. “We knew various types of civic engagement were taking place across campus, but the processes weren’t yet in place to track that information.”

Paterson was not personally involved in Illinois State’s first application, but she did review the materials extensively in her role as dean of students and then again when she transitioned to become chair of the Civic Engagement Center Task Force. Paterson was ultimately named the first interim director of CESL when the center was created in 2017.

“I felt that this is where we needed to get the groundwork going,” Paterson said of the center. “If we were going to go up for the Carnegie Elective Classification again, we had to get into place some of the foundational behaviors. We had to institutionalize processes and we had to begin tracking impact. We needed data on our engagement efforts.”

According to Paterson, that is why Bruckner was the first official employee in CESL, hired for her experience in data analysis and management. Bruckner transitioned to CESL from the Office of Planning, Research, and Policy Analysis. Bruckner’s first six months at CESL were an immersion in reading and analyzing approaches to the systemic and institutional changes necessary in order to approach the 2020 application for the Elective Classification for Community Engagement.

“That is the manner in which, in the earliest days of the concept of the center, the Carnegie Classification had an impact on how we behaved,” Paterson said. “We wanted to begin to function as an institution that would be worthy of receiving this designation.”

Paterson, like Bruckner, is also quick to caution against considering the classification an award.

“This was never something we were chasing after,” Paterson said. “Rather, it’s an acknowledgement of what we really do at Illinois State. It’s not that we were going after it; we weren’t trying to win first place in a race. We were simply hoping to have public exposure for what Illinois State is about and what it’s accomplishing. This is an acknowledgement of who and what we are as an institution.”

In early 2018, Bruckner and Paterson worked together to create a campuswide task force to aid in the application process. Task force members were approved by Jan Murphy, vice president for academic affairs and provost, and Levester Johnson, vice president for student affairs. The task force officially convened in March 2018 and worked until the application was submitted the following year.

“This was never something we were chasing after. Rather, it’s an acknowledgment of what we really do at Illinois State.”—Janet Paterson

Task force members divided up questions from the application that could not be answered through the current civic and community engagement reporting process, and they began locating data sources. In addition, task force members worked on writing and editing the application.

Liaisons were also identified for each college and student affairs unit for the coordination of data collection. Between those liaisons and outreaches from the task force members, nearly 300 individuals from the campus and community contributed to the application.

While the application process was extensive and campuswide, Paterson is quick to point out that it would not have been possible without Bruckner, who devoted the majority of her time to the project over the last two years and did much of the writing. “Christine really carried the weight of this work,” said Paterson. “She turned to the task force and liaisons for information and consultation, but she did so much of the work herself. Her passions for both civic engagement and data management really showed in her efforts.”

Bruckner, while excited about the designation, also continues to look to the future of civic engagement at Illinois State and the areas designated for improvement within the application process.

“We’re doing great things,” Bruckner said, “and this is only the beginning. By going through this process, we’ve identified where we are and where we’ve been, and now it allows us to look at how we can adapt that and continue to grow from it.”

Task force members

  • Christine Bruckner—Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning
  • Janet Paterson—Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning
  • Erin Thomas—Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs
  • Cheryl Fogler—Planning, Research, and Policy Analysis
  • Katie Pratt—University College
  • James Applegate—Center for the Study of Education Policy
  • Missy Nergard—Office of Sustainability (through summer 2018)
  • Chad Kahl—Milner Library (beginning fall 2018)

The application consisted of nearly 300 individual questions

  • 48 yes/no questions
  • 9 short answer questions
  • 6 multiple selection questions involving narrative responses for each selection
  • 62 total narrative responses limited to 500 words each
  • A section highlighting 15 campus-community partnerships. Each partnership description included
    • 8 short answer questions
    • 3 narrative responses

Individuals involved

  • 8 total task force members
  • 7 college liaisons
  • 15 community partner organizations
  • Nearly 300 individuals in total outreach

Application timeline

  • Application review and planning process began within the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning in fall 2017.
  • 2020 framework questions were released by the Carnegie Foundation in January 2018.
  • Task force and college liaisons convened and began work in spring 2018.
  • Data were collected in the 2018 calendar year.
  • Application was submitted in April 2019.
  • Classification was publicly announced in January 2020.
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