David Hoffman is Assistant Director of Student Life for Civic Agency at UMBC.
When I came to UMBC I had no idea how lucky I was. I had arrived at just the right place, at just the right time, and among just the right people to work on projects with the potential to help renew our democracy. Now, nine years later, UMBC is in the national spotlight for its creativity and cross-campus commitment to civic engagement.
At a White House event earlier this year, UMBC and its Student Government Association were celebrated as models for “next generation” engagement initiatives. BreakingGround builds on this important work, and its potential impact is immense.
Two reports released at the White House event describe a revolution in thinking about civic education on U.S. college and university campuses. The reports urge schools to embrace civic education and engagement across disciplines and departments, and to help students prepare to be creative problem-solvers rather than merely participants in civic life. UMBC has been deeply involved in the civic education revolution reflected in these two reports, and 2011-2012 SGA President Catie Collins was an invited speaker at the White House event celebrating their publication.
UMBC has received so much attention because our culture and practices make creativity, innovation, appreciation for diverse perspectives and talents, and public impact central to our identity. We take pride in our scrappy, can-do spirit, celebrating entrepreneurs, boundary-busters and problem-solvers in every field.
Students, faculty and staff work together to make practical, groundbreaking contributions to the common good through courses, research, student organizations, service-learning programs, public events, informal networks and campus/community improvement projects. When students such as Catie Collins and current SGA President Kaylesh Ramu have represented UMBC in national forums like the White House event, they have done so with the confidence, skills and wisdom that their experiences as change agents helped them to develop.
UMBC is part of a network of universities and higher education organizations exploring engagement strategies. President Hrabowski serves on the national advisory board for the American Commonwealth Partnership, an emerging cross-sector coalition creating “democracy’s colleges.” With a national audience poised to learn from what we do here together, we have the chance through BreakingGround to show how to illuminate, deepen and extend a campus culture of engagement.
Just as I was when I joined the UMBC community, we are all in the right place, at the right time, with the right people to make significant contributions to our democracy.