Carnegie Honors EKU for Community Engagement

file photo from Shelby City Cemetery project

Eastern Kentucky University’s strong commitment to community engagement has been reflected for years in transformed lives, improved services and enhanced quality of life throughout the region and Commonwealth.

Now it has earned national attention.

EKU is among only 361 U.S. colleges and universities (approximately 5 percent of the total of institutions) selected by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching to receive the Foundation’s 2015 Community Engagement Classification. Eastern was first honored by Carnegie in 2008.

Colleges and universities with an institutional focus on community engagement were invited to apply for the classification. Unlike the Foundation’s other classifications that rely on national data, this is an elective classification – institutions participated voluntarily by submitting required materials describing the nature and extent of their engagement with the community, local or beyond. This approach enabled the Foundation to address elements of institutional mission and distinctiveness that are not represented in the national data on colleges and universities.

 “The importance of this elective classification is borne out by the response of so many campuses that have demonstrated their deep engagement with local, regional, national and global communities,” said John Saltmarsh, director of the New England Resource Center for Higher Education. “These are campuses that are improving teaching and learning, producing research that makes a difference in communities, and revitalizing their civic and academic missions.”

In order to be selected for the honor, institutions had to provide descriptions and examples of institutionalized practices of community engagement that showed alignment among mission, culture, leadership, resources and practices. For a complete list of institutions holding the Community Engagement Classification, see

EKU’s application noted numerous examples of community engagement, including, among many others:

·         The establishment in 2013 of the Center for Appalachian Regional Engagement and Stewardship (CARES) to provide a unified, comprehensive approach focused on five areas of need identified by the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education: economic and workforce development; education; environment; collaborative government; and health, wellness and safety. Programs housed within CARES include an Appalachian Studies minor, an Environmental Sustainability and Stewardship minor, the Kentucky Institute for Public Governance, the Office of Regional Stewardship, PRISM: A Journal of Regional Engagement, the Regional Outreach Agent Program and Service Learning. The University’s commitment to regional stewardship is a cornerstone of its mission and vision statements as well as its strategic plan.

·         A personal commitment by President Michael Benson to build partnerships throughout the community and region to address needs. The University’s “commitment to place” has been a major theme throughout his tenure. Examples include a “town hall” meeting on campus with Richmond Mayor Jim Barnes to gain campus input in revitalizing the city’s downtown; repainting of water towers to prominently declare “Partners in Progress”; the President’s service with SOAR, a comprehensive, bipartisan effort aimed at “Shaping Our Appalachian Region”; and the decision to hold a Board of Regents retreat in Frankfort and a regular Board meeting in Hazard.

·         A significant increase in funding from the University for public service initiatives.

·         The Center for Economic Development, Entrepreneurship and Technology (CEDET), which offers numerous programs and services that enhance economic and workforce development throughout the region and assist small businesses and entrepreneurs.

·         An increase in the number of academic courses throughout the University that feature a service learning component. Students report that service learning enhances their ability to make connections between their coursework and real-world problems, and faculty say it gives them a sense of pride in the University’s ability and willingness to help communities.

·         A Hometown Ambassadors regional stewardship initiative that allows EKU students to work with middle and high schools, sharing their college experience with students in schools they once attended.

·         Alternative Spring Break program, in which EKU students travel throughout the country, performing more than 1,400 hours of public service in a one-week period, while learning about critical social issues such as public health, hunger, community organizing and affordable housing.

·         Annual City Fest event, which allows students, especially those new to the campus and community, to learn more about local businesses, organizations and services.

 “We are stewards of the place we are at, and we’re connected with people in our communities,” said Will Keaton, assistant director of Student Life-Service. “It’s about building partnerships with government, business, non-profits and the arts.”

EKU also made the President’s Honor Roll in 2013 and 2014 for community service provided by its students. The Roll annually highlights the role colleges and universities play in solving community problems and placing students on a lifelong path of civic engagement.

Published on January 07, 2015

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