Foundations of Civic Engagement students line-up outside of the H-E-B University Center to cast their ballot.
In the Fall of 2016, the Department of Public Administration launched its minor in Civic Engagement, aiming to attract undergraduates from across the university. The goal is for students to build proficiency in concepts of community, participatory democracy, and public service, as well as to develop the habits of involved citizens, through a variety of engaging experiences.
While housed in the College of Public Policy, the minor was partly inspired by the recognition that many departments already offer courses that motivate students to use their knowledge in the ser-vice of civitas, the shared responsibility of a community to work toward a common purpose. Beyond two required courses offered by the Public Administration Department, an introductory foundation and a project-based capstone, the minor is completed through designated courses in a variety of majors. The lengthy list of approved classes is divided into categories of Diversity of Communities and Civic Infrastructure, reflecting the significance of both the human element and the formal constructs of civic engagement. For example, an anthropology class on sex, gender, and culture fits in the Diversity of Communities category, while an architecture course on community planning falls under Civic Infra-structure.
Kicking off the minor, the first iteration of Foundations of Civic Engagement immersed students into numerous learning experiences, some traditional, but most participatory. The course emphasizes the value of understanding the rules and practices of democracy, from the local to federal level, underscoring the role all citizens may play in these processes. A small sample of learning modules includes: narratives of such diverse pioneers of activism as Thomas Jefferson, Willie Velásquez, and Phyllis Schlafly; fluency in the components of the U.S. Constitution; an on-campus early vote excursion preceded by a deep review of the offices and candidates on the ballot; and, student-led debates on the role of citizens in environmental protection policies.
Jamilyn Keeton, UTSA senior, facilitates a conversation with community members about the Electoral College at the Constitution Café. Photo courtesy of Michelle Skidmore.
The major project was a Constitution Café, modeled on Christopher Phillips' book and movement of the same name. Choosing the timely topic of the rules governing the Electoral College, students spent a good deal of the semester planning the event. They invited guests from the community, prepared an introductory presentation to guide the assembly in understanding this complex topic, and moderated small table discussions. One student took the lead in successfully applying for a City of San Antonio Challenge Grant, helping to defray the costs of food, invitations, and educational materials. Held early on a cold morning in December, the event was a resounding success, with about 60 attendees including parents, siblings, friends, and local luminaries, representatives of a variety of elected officials.
The Café was covered by several local news outlets, and selected students were impacted. As student Diego Lopez noted in a later reflection assignment, "I witnessed firsthand how a group can work together and complete a task; we influenced a group of people by encouraging a discussion and I'm proud to have accomplished our goal. I learned how to organize an event and spoke in public for the first time."
If the initial class is any indication, the minor will inspire students to merge their college education with a passion for participation-perhaps revealed for the first time in these courses- into a future of rewarding and meaningful civic engagement.VISIT WEBSITE
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