Keene State College has been actively involved in the American Democracy Project (ADP) since 2007 and specific Civic Engagement initiatives such as American’s Fiscal Future, eCitizenship, and Global Engagement over the past decade. Over 50 members of the Keene State community, including faculty, staff, students and administrators have attended ADP annual meetings and specific workshops and institutes. In 2012, former Provost Mel Netzhammer received the Plater Award, the only known national award for chief academic officers, given for providing leadership in focusing our campus on civic engagement, recognizing Keene State College’s commitment to living our mission to “…prepare(s) promising students to think critically and creatively, to engage in active citizenship, and to pursue meaningful work” and our motto “Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Serve.”
During our involvement, our campus has benefitted from our connection to ADP through the development of course work by individual faculty including collaboratively taught classes: IQL 101 America’s Fiscal Future and ISPOSC What is Politics?; ISPOSC 199: Citizenship and Community; SOC 390: Homelessness in NH and the U.S.; ITW and IQL 101: Seven Revolutions; IIHGS 255: Genocide; and, HS 499 Public Health. Numerous campus-wide programmatic initiatives such as “The Seven Billion Project,” “Participating Candidates,” “Constitution Day,” and “Debate Watch Parties” were supported and sponsored by the ADP Steering Committee.
In the spring of 2012 the Keene State College ADP Steering committee clarified its purpose by developing and approving the following “Vision and Values” Statement:”
The American Democracy Project at Keene State College:
Building Community Engagement and Shaping Public Policy
Keene State College’s participation in the American Association of State Colleges and University’s American Democracy Project advances the public Liberal Arts mission of the College by providing opportunities to reflect on community engagement and active citizenship. To this end, our work with the American Democracy Project joins the campus community and its many partners to:
- Raise awareness of public policy issues,
- Foster diverse skills that support responsible and effective engagement,
- Provide opportunities for direct participation in our communities.
We do all this in the knowledge that present and future generations are stakeholders in the common good.
As a result of the creation of the above statement and recognition of the desire of KSC’s ADP to better coordinate its mission, educational efforts, and increase its visibility, the Steering Committee put forth a proposal, which was accepted, for the 2013 Symposium for a theme centered on the notion of the commons. The commons is the place, physical and now virtual, where people meet to share resources. The ancient concept of shared resources is common weal, which is the root of the word common wealth. Common weal points to this wealth of resources – personal, natural, social, civic, religious/spiritual, and the like – that is shared in a place known as “the commons.” Our symposium proposal called for a thoughtful exploration of this concept situated in the context of how our assorted communities contribute to (and draw from) our “common wealth” with a particular emphasis on our individual roles and potential roles. We hoped to supplement the customary collection of educational speakers with symposium workshops to foster skills to improve our effectiveness individually as caretakers of our shared resources and stewards of public policy. Our application was also unique in that it proposed bringing together other campus speaker series; Keene is Reading, Art Gallery/Brickyard Pond Arts Center programs, and Campus Dialogues in symposium-themed “threaded” events.
Over the course of 12 months a variety of threaded programs and the symposium itself helped our campus explore many dimensions of our commons, understand what is at risk and our own responsibilities in safeguarding those parts of our communities that we value most. The ADP/Symposium Steering Committees grew in their understanding of assisting a diverse population of faculty, staff, students and community members to reframe their thoughts and actions regarding a complex, integrated topic: the commons. Of equal importance, the committees became adept at collaboration, negotiating the roles of leadership when appropriate and necessary, but more often acting as supports and facilitators, identifying synergies between and among groups and drawing individuals with similar energy together to create something that is greater than the sum of our parts.
In 2014, the Steering Committee began a new project, one with national responsibilities and recognition. Keene State began a co-lead campus on a new national civic engagement initiative focused on economic issues and social awareness of growing income inequality and vanishing mobility between socioeconomic classes. Keene State played a leadership role for this initiative for four years, leading to the development of shared curriculum with support of a Teagle grant and co-curricular activities, including the 4Quad Political Ideology Diagnostic.