In Pursuit of Civic Learning

Posted on February 05, 2015

Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement Initiatives at UNCG

How best does UNCG foster students as engaged citizens? What are the ways that we mobilize higher education to increase student involvement in public life, nurture democratic practices, and make civic engagement central to student learning?

UNCG continues to actively explore these questions, and has committed to strategies to make civic learning and democratic engagement core values of the institution. This commitment is solidified through participation in two national initiatives: the Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement (CLDE) Initiative coordinated by NASPA, and the Campus and Community Civic Health Initiative, co-hosted by the American Democracy Project and the National Conference on Citizenship.

Led by Dr. Kristin Moretto of UNCG’s Office of Leadership and Service-Learning (OLSL), the CLDE Initiative aims to influence and promote the education of students’ as engaged citizens through democratic participation in their communities, respect and appreciation of diversity, applied learning and social responsibility. As a lead institution, UNCG will work to build clear and tangible civic learning and democratic engagement activities into student affairs division strategic goals and learning outcomes; collect and reporting data on the efficacy of campus efforts using tools that measure gains in civic learning and democratic engagement; and create strategies in collaboration with students that increase civic learning and help solve community problems through collective action.

“It’s important for UNCG to focus on civic engagement because research has shown civic decline among youth. They’re not as engaged civically or politically. Civic and democratic engagement are important student learning outcomes that we need to reclaim as educators,” said Dr. Moretto, who also heads the Student Affairs CLDE committee.

Since joining these Civic Engagement Initiatives, UNCG has hosted a number of events focused on student civic engagement, including:

  • Multiple “Voting 101” events, to help students learn about voting laws, rights, registration, candidates, and issues
  • “Walk to the Polls” event, to encourage student voter participation
  • Series of presentations given by national speaker Ambassador James A. Joseph, who addressed global citizenship with faculty, staff, and students
  • Development of an “engaged citizen” quiz for student professional development
  • Discussion with Ben Freeth, who shared his experience fighting racism and human rights violations in Zimbabwe
  • Screening of Inequality for All
  • Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week
  • MLK Day Challenge Event
  • Participation in CIRCLE’s national study of student voting to better understand voting habits of UNCG students
  • “Keep it Local,” a faculty “meet and greet” with community partners to foster connections and partnerships
  • An inventory of civic engagement programs and services from across UNCG

Alongside these student-directed efforts, Dr. Spoma Jovanovic, professor of communication studies, worked with Moretto to conduct a study of community-engaged faculty to understand current teaching and learning goals that produce civically engaged students. Jovanovic recently served as OLSL’s Senior Scholar and currently as liaison to the American Democracy Project, a national initiative hosted by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities focused on public higher education’s role in preparing the next generation of informed, engaged citizens for our democracy.

“The results of our study revealed that few faculty on our campus were developing curricula to teach students critical democratic skills,” says Jovanovic. “We identified a gap in teaching that caused us to ask what could we do to help faculty teach students how to interact with political leaders, respectfully question the status quo, activate others in the community, publicly speak out on behalf of community partners, draft and/or present public proposals for policy change, and conduct research for the benefit of community partners. We heard from faculty in our research that the teaching of these democratic practices was largely missing from the classroom.”

As a result, Jovanovic and Moretto coordinated a day-long professional development event in June of 2014 for faculty, students and community partners (funded by AAC&U and the Weaver Foundation) to discuss the democratic capacities students need to participate in meaningful ways in the community, and to revise syllabi to incorporate these capacities as learning objectives. Data collected at the event will serve as the foundation of future professional development events and resource modules.

For more information, visit



National Speaker: Dr. Harry Boyte
On March 25, 2015, OLSL will host Harry Boyte, who will speak on the meaning of democracy for colleges and universities in building and rebuilding public citizenship. Mark your calendars for a public Keynote Address at 6pm in SOEB 118, with a reception beginning at 5pm (hors d’oeuvres will be served). Dr. Boyte will also host a professional development session from 8:30-11am in the Faculty Center for faculty and community partners involved/interested in educating students toward democratic citizenship. More details will be available soon!  Visit for more information.

Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement Conference
In June 2015, the American Democracy Project, The Democracy Commitment, and NASPA communities will partner to strengthen and deepen the civic learning and engagement work that we are all committed to across our institutions—both public and private. All three organizations are dedicated to ensuring that students graduate from our colleges and universities prepared to be the informed, engaged citizens that our communities and our democracy need. Please visit the official event website for more information and to register.

Written by Kristin Medlin, ICEE Communications and Partnerships Manager
Image Credit: NASPA

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