INSPIRED IMPACT is an ongoing blog series that gives voice to purpose-driven organizations and passionate leaders and entrepreneurs who are making an impact in their communities and industries.
WHAT DO YOU DO?
Campus Compact Mountain West partners with colleges and universities in Colorado and Wyoming to support educational equity, access, and success through student and institutional engagement. We focus on developing opportunities for meaningful civic and community engagement and on reciprocal campus and community partnerships that strengthen the civic health of communities.
WHY DO YOU DO IT?
Educational attainment is a critical marker for the health and well-being of individuals and of the communities in which they live. Engagement is a critical strategy for connecting individuals to their communities through their higher education experiences such that WHAT students are learning is inextricably tied to HOW and WHY they’re learning it. Educational attainment is a public (not solely a private) good that elevates the civic health and resiliency of communities.
WHAT IMPACT ARE YOU MAKING?
Campus Compact Mountain West focuses on diverse strategies for developing and sustaining civic and community engagement initiatives and practices on campuses in the region. We work directly with faculty and staff to share best practices and training to integrate community engagement into curricula and programming. We work directly with students to explore how academic studies and career development are tied to personal values and mission. We work directly with campus administrators to deepen institutional commitment to practices that support student learning AND the public good. We focus resources on providing access and success in higher education to under-represented groups of students, including Veterans and military-affiliated students, Native American students, and first-generation to college students. And, we work nationally to highlight the unique work of Mountain West colleges and universities as exemplars of anchor institutions within local communities.
WHAT (OR WHO) INSPIRES YOU TO MAKE THIS IMPACT?
Our organizational inspiration comes from seeing the multiple ways in which community-engaged work in higher education makes a significant difference for both students and for communities. We see students develop deep connections within their communities that lead to a deeper understanding of course content and how that content means something in the real world. We see community organizations better able to serve the needs of individuals through partnerships with faculty, staff, and students. We see how community indicators are elevated as colleges and universities tie their own success to the civic and public health of the communities in which they are hosted. We are inspired by all of this to continue our work.
WHAT’S YOUR BIG DREAM FOR THE ORGANIZATION AND THE IMPACT YOU WANT TO MAKE?
We want to ensure that colleges and universities live their public missions in how they teach students and in how they operate as public good stewards. We also want for higher education institutions to be valued as critical partners in addressing the civic health challenges of communities. In a time in which many critics of higher education focus exclusively on tuition versus future earnings, our big dream is to expand this narrow focus to the myriad ways that colleges and universities are central to the development and support of civically healthy, economically resilient, equitable, and engaged communities.
WHAT RESOURCES DO YOU NEED TO MAKE THOSE DREAMS COME TRUE?
As a nonprofit membership organization of colleges and universities, one of our goals is to bring resources to campuses that help support civic and community engagement initiatives. Grant funding is a significant driver of programs and services for our organization and is consistently either a boon or a barrier to how effective we’re able to be as an organization. Investment from the funding community and from state legislatures are key to continuing our work.
WHAT IS (OR HAS BEEN) YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE?
Our most significant challenge has been the laser focus on educational attainment as a private good for students, wherein a college or university degree is only as valuable as the salary students are able to secure post-graduation. While workforce and career development are important pieces of the story, they’re not the entire story. There is so much more to the role that colleges and universities play for students and with communities that is largely ignored in the current climate. Equally important to a degree is whether or not graduates are able to work with diverse groups of people, are able to communicate ideas, are able to think critically about problems and situations around them. These are skills that are developed through civic and community engagement and must be included as part of the story that higher education has to tell.
WHAT WORDS OF ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHER LEADERS LOOKING TO MAKE AN IMPACT?
As executive director of this organization my biggest lesson learned has been about partnerships and shared leadership. Being in a leadership role does not equate to having all the answers or knowing the right path to take all of the time. My work is more effective because I endeavor to support expertise and leadership from those around me. Lots of folks know more or can think more creatively than me about issues that arise in this field. I appreciate and try to cultivate that diversity in experiences and knowledge. It’s a good thing and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
HOW CAN OTHERS SUPPORT YOU OR YOUR CAUSE?
Our cause is strengthened by people understanding and talking about the public good that colleges and universities do in educating students and partnering with communities to improve civic health. We need people to stand up for colleges and universities as anchor institutions that serve important roles in educating students for civic responsibility. Grant funding doesn’t hurt either…
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