The Most Important Step

Carrie Cleveland ’16, Social Work, and Brian Haran ’15, Mechanical Engineering are students in Civic Agency and Social Entrepreneurship (AMST/POLI/SOCY 205)

Carrie reflects:

Carrie ClevelandWalking into the first meeting of my Civic Agency class I thought, “I’ve got this.” I am 35 years old. I know what it means to be a good citizen. I know what it means to be involved. I know this all so well because I vote. I follow the campaigns, read my sample ballot, and make informed choices on Election Day. I know what democracy means. I’ve got this.

Talk about a wakeup call! Democracy means that I can be involved in governance beyond Election Day. I can’t just vote and walk away. I need to do something. If I want something to change, making it happen is up to me, not just those people I vote for. I need to PARTICIPATE.

This class has opened my eyes. It is showing me that is it my responsibility to be fully engaged in the democratic process. Our instructors are giving us the tools to critically look at problems and make change happen.  This is something that I had never really done before.  They wants us to make UMBC, and ultimately the world, a better place and they are actually showing us how to do that.  Talk about a life lesson.

Carrie Cleveland Daughter

Look: I even take my kids to vote!

I have three girls at home that I am doing my best to raise to be good people.  One day, one of them may be a student at UMBC. The Civic Agency class gives  us a chance to leave a little piece of ourselves behind, to help contribute to the greater good. It shows us that if we want this world to be a better place for ourselves and our children then it is up to us to make it that way, and that there are tools and strategies that can help us get it done.

Brian reflects:

Brian HaranAt the beginning of the semester, I figured that “good” democratic citizens were ones who stayed informed about their government, voted during election season, and rounded their character out by performing some sort of community service. Don’t get me wrong, these are all great characteristics that we should strive for, but POLI 205 has taught me that there is more to being a true part of a democratic community.

Democracy runs on the idea that everyone’s voice gets to be heard. Living in a republic, we Americans are often of the mindset that our voice doesn’t extend far beyond the voting booth. But I have learned that it can.

Being a citizen in a democracy means that I can take an issue that I see in my day to day life and pursue a solution to the problem. This isn’t an easy thing to do, but nothing worth doing is easy. It requires perseverance, a strong network of supporters, flexibility, ingenuity, and then more perseverance. But the most important step towards success in changing one’s community is realizing that it can be done.

Throughout the semester I have learned that UMBC has many successful programs in place to help students carry out campus change objectives. For example, the UMBC Prove It! competition encourages students to actively pursue the changes they want to see in the campus community, and has yielded significant results. Noche Vida, our campus’s late night coffee shop, is a product of this competition, along with other campus changes.

POLI 205 has helped me see that we have the ability and responsibility, as engaged citizens, to pursue the changes we want to see in our community. What better place is there to start than on our own campus?

Contact the authors: Carrie Cleveland at, and Brian Haran at

Transforming the Here and Now

David Hoffman is UMBC’s assistant director of student life for civic agency.

[Cross-posted on Co-Create UMBC].

David Hoffman

STRiVE 2013, UMBC’s fifth annual homegrown student leadership retreat, sponsored by the Office of Student Life and Student Government Association, took place last week at the Skycroft Conference Center. I served as one of 12 coaches (6 staff members, 6 students). Each STRiVE is different (I’ve participated in all five), but they are always life-altering. [My reflections on previous STRiVE retreats: 2012201120102009].

B-1The phrase “leadership retreat” really doesn’t do STRiVE justice. It obscures the poetry and magic of the lived experience. What happened in the hills west of Frederick last week was mostly spontaneous, profoundly real and deeply poignant. 62 UMBC students and staff members, most of us strangers to each other when the week began, helped each other to discover that despite our fears and vulnerabilities, and partly because of them, we are strong, wise and perfectly capable of transforming our lives and world together. We know this now without a doubt, because by week’s end the transformations already had begun.

C-14STRiVE’s intellectual foundations include the “social change model” of leadership developed by higher education scholars, student development theory, social cognitive theory, and Harry Boyte’s pioneering ideas about preparing people for active roles in democracy. Based on our synthesis of these ideas, one of the core principles of STRiVE’s design is that we coaches empower the participants as co-creators of all their experiences, including the retreat itself while it is happening. To do otherwise would risk stunting their growth by equipping them to thrive only in leadership simulations, when authority figures are available to give instructions and assign roles. [Read more…]