BreakingGround is at the forefront of a vibrant, new movement toward increased campus and community engagement—a movement that is now gaining ground nationally. In early 2012, two widely heralded reports called on higher education to play a central role in renewing American democracy and preparing citizens to tackle the challenges of our age.

A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy’s Future, issued by the National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement, argues that higher education in our diverse democracy “needs to cultivate in each of its graduates an open and curious mind, critical acumen, public voice, ethical and moral judgment, and the commitment to act collectively in public to achieve shared purposes.”

Advancing Civic Learning and Engagement in Democracy: A Roadmap and Call to Action, issued by the U.S. Department of Education, argues that the nation’s return on its investment of hundreds of billions of dollars in students’ education must be measured not just in their productive employment but also in their capacity to work together to “solve collective problems creatively and collaboratively.” The report calls on schools to regard civic education and engagement as “essential parts of the core academic mission.”

UMBC has been deeply involved in this civic education revolution at the ground floor. Our faculty and staff have developed courses in which students can invest themselves in making practical, innovative contributions to the common good. Staff members have supported students as architects of campus life, helping them to envision and plan events, renovate spaces, change campus policies and practices, design Alternative School Break trips, administer justice, and develop and implement campus and community improvement projects. The Shriver Center has enabled students to learn through meaningful, sustained service in partnership with local communities.

The Roadmap and Call to Action cites our Student Government Association as a stand-out example to other universities, highlighting its transformation from a provider of services to a catalyst for democratic engagement. Through our deep and early involvement with several national civic agency initiatives, including the American Commonwealth Partnership, UMBC has articulated a vision of engagement in which all students can learn the skills and habits of empowered citizenship. How? By building coalitions, navigating interpersonal and institutional dynamics, and tackling real problems on campus and beyond.

BreakingGround, developed collaboratively by a wide range of campus partners, is a platform for making all of this work visible, celebrating UMBC’s innovators and change agents, and inviting everyone in the UMBC community to get involved in this movement. As UMBC Provost Philip Rous has observed, “we are all here because we want to make a difference, and we do.” Through courses, community events, and forums for sharing and deliberation, BreakingGround helps to bring us together and facilitates our creative contributions to the common good.

Learn more about the national movement to promote civic agency in higher ed:

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