GWCH Chapter 4: Vision and Universities

Being able to see what is possible is the key to knowing what has to be achieved within the community.

Why is this community vision important to the university? It provides the opportunity to start something with the potential to expand beyond the boundaries of the university and to have a lasting positive effect on the surrounding community and students. The graduation with civic honors concept provides a chance for some institutions to become national leaders by creating a vision and by providing a model for socially beneficial civic engagement. Engaging the program as a way for the university to unite the community behind the mobilization of individuals is an avenue toward community success. Becoming a vibrant partner with the community through such a program raises the perceived level of commitment on the part of the college. Vision is a necessary component of being a leader in the community. Change is inevitable. Without being prepared to address community issues and changes, the university will miss opportunities. It is important to focus on being able to anticipate changes in society and to deal with that change in a positive way (Johnson, 1998).

The legacy of the program can be a profoundly important page in the history of the university. It has the potential to make the college or university an active part of the community as a real part of its daily life, and that legacy would pay dividends to the college. Results include providing a positive message for the university to spread to its current and prospective students, showing that academics can go hand in hand with the strength of the community. Fostering the development of strong community around the university also is essential to a healthy university environment. The long-term potential of each college or university program is to expand beyond the institution by serving as a model for other institutions and, as importantly, to spread the positive image of the institution.

A college or university that has particular success with the civic honors program could become a national model that not only would spread a message of community, but also would build recognition of the college as a national leader. This also creates the potential to identify strong leaders within the institution by providing opportunity to those who work hard toward building a strong community. These leaders have the potential to build the reputation of the institution as well as the community. This potential for vision and leadership requires nurturing. It is the foundation of building a working model for developing a strong community. The success a university has with the civic honors program is more than success for the university; it is also success in the greater context of what the volunteers contribute to the community. Defining action in the context of community is the first step to being able to understand what actions will produce positive results within the community.

Why is this concept so powerful for the community? It shows that the university has the vision to be a social leader in the community. Those creating a graduation with civic honors program must think about not only building the social fabric that holds the community together but also enabling current potential in the community. The fact that an institution within the community is stepping forward to assume a position of leadership is a powerful message to the community. It validates that leadership is possible and that community stakeholders can make a difference. This dynamic of power in the community is very interesting to think about in that spreading a positive message about community can have an impact on the community itself. Looking at leadership and ways to benefit the community is a powerful use of vision that can have profound effects.

Would it be beneficial to the university to unite the community within the spirit of collaboration? Any way that the spirit of collaboration can spread within a community sends an important message about uniting the community. Implementing a program that spreads a message about collaboration within the community can serve as a rallying cry. Positive uses of the language of community emerge that will help define the context of the entire endeavor. One of the cornerstones of ensuring that collaboration is possible is being able to develop a civic honors program that benefits everyone involved. When all the parties involved benefit in some way, the community as a whole benefits from greater sustainability.

Is the Civic Honors Program Feasible?

Being able to look beyond what is possible and to understand what is feasible takes not only perspective but also a drive to move in new directions.

The resources and technology exist to create the program, and the university has the leadership ability to make this program a reality. The university already has the internal organization necessary to track students. This foundation of information makes implementation of the internal civic honors program much simpler than the implementation of the external program. The internal program only has to deal with students and coordinate declaring the civic honors within the university. The external program is more complex, as it requires working with outside organizations to develop a database that is accessible not only to these organizations but also to members of the community. The basis for long-term development of the civic honors program within the community is being able to work with individuals outside the university.

A civic honors program is unlikely to develop spontaneously within the community without the backing of a strong organization like a college or university. The institution has the resource of its students to connect or bridge to the community. The development of a rich and complex civil society will not just appear. It has to be a part of the vision of an institution willing to acknowledge that advanced industrialization and technology alone will not create a sustainable and efficient program for developing the community (Fukuyama, 1995). To develop a strong civic honors program, the institution has to acknowledge the difference between developing a strategy for constructing a stronger civil society and just developing technology for the sake of developing technology. The institution has to design the civic honors program based on utilizing the strengths of developing technology to benefit society. One of the benefits of advancing technology is lowering the cost to implement a civic honors program.

The civic honors program is free to outside organizations, providing a true resource for the community. Leadership rarely takes the form of something that organizations within the community can use without having to commit fiscal resources. This is fundamental to opening the door to organizations, K–12 schools, and colleges and universities to adopt the civic honors program. No organization in the community is likely to turn down the opportunity to utilize this resource. Open and free access builds the possibility of mobilizing organizations toward wanting to participate in the civic honors program. The ability to develop the interest of both the individual and the organization is important to sustained success of the program in the community.

Volunteers are exactly what the community organizations need: a labor pool that is accessible and does not require funding to recruit. The outside organizations in the civic honors program only need to announce and maintain a current list of activities, with some description of the activity and time requirements and the number of people they would like to participate in each activity. This ability to have the need identified for potential participants is where the real power of the civic honors program originates: the ability to develop that relationship between the individual and the community organizations. The organizations do not have to pay for television commercials or newspaper ads to recruit these individuals. That frees up other resources for the organizations and allows them to participate in the civic honors program without having to commit their resources.

If the model works, the civic honors program starts to spread throughout the community, the region, and the nation, developing into full-fledged community action. A national program showing the promise of the program on a broad basis could help to build success. Community involvement is rarely an unpopular issue. This program involves a truly altruistic purpose; the only real obstacle is if the community organizations perceive the civic honors program as competing with them in some way. However, this perception is unlikely, as the only competition that develops from a civic honors program is for volunteers. The program itself is not inherently a competitive system; it is a system of pure collaboration, connecting people who will work to those who need help, working together for the common good.

Selling the first partners will be the biggest hurdle. Once it is apparent that the program is successful, collaboration should become easier every time an organization becomes involved. The momentum should build as organizations start seeing the tangible benefits of the civic honors program. Organizations will be willing to participate in a program that works. The first hurdle will be fostering early participation in the program by outside organizations. Ironically, at inception the civic honors program may appear ineffective, since many outside organizations will not know about the program, resulting in a limited list of organizations and activities for which to volunteer. It will take great vision and commitment to develop the foundation necessary for the civic honors program to be successful. The demand for participation of volunteers exists in most communities; thus, it is likely that the potential volunteers themselves will have outside organizations in mind already. This has been the case in the Johnson County Community College program.

A program design that is nonpolitical on the issue of helping the community also should help to manage opposition. It is very important that the civic honors program appear not to be competing for political power but to be working to foster social capital—not for the good of the institution running the civic honors program but for the general good. The program should work with the community to develop the natural strengths in the community. That dynamic is inherently a nonpolitical community issue in which every member of the community could and should be a stakeholder. There is a question of whether everybody can come together to work for the common good without being drawn into use as a political campaign tool. The civic honors program needs to be a step away from partisanship—an effort to increase civic participation.

It should not be difficult to obtain a foundation grant to design a community organization activities database and to set it up as a model for other institutions. In today’s world, the database design allows organizations to post information to the Web. This will require thought and planning, because the database needs to be capable of handling multiple situations and of serving as the model for future programs. Specifically, the initial database design should allow another institution to install and use it to start a civic honors program. If the database design does not allow collaboration, the initial investment to design the database would be a burden to every organization trying to set up a civic honors program. Again, obtaining funding to design a national model for the civic honors database would simplify the matter.

The cost to design this database is not extreme. Most institutions are already using databases and have individuals on the payroll who specialize in designing and implementing such databases. This puts the institution in a unique position to utilize current resources with some application of time and leadership to develop a broad community partnership. An institution that has the leadership to design a repeatable database is imperative to the rapid spread of the civic honors program throughout the nation. The foundation of the civic honors program is a message worth repeating, that advocating increased civic participation is beneficial to society. An institution could take credit for origination of the database, to build its reputation.

GWCH Chapter 3: Thinking About What is Possible

When working to strengthen the community, anything is possible, and any time alternatives are not considered, potential is lost.

Imagine a world where everyone who wanted to volunteer some of their time had one place they could go to find out how to participate. Understanding what is possible requires recognizing that individuals are all different and that bringing together all of their individual strengths, capacity, and skill specializations will benefit the community (Gulick & Urwick, 1937). Imagine, if you will, a world where no gap exists between the individual who wants to benefit society and the organizations that desperately need additional help from volunteers. Imagine a world full of accessible information provided by universities and other organizations engaged in graduation with civic honors. This is possible with the right amount of time and effort. It is an idea that quickly can become reality with the right motivation and intentions. It is possible to motivate individuals by focusing on individual civic attitudes and participation within the community (Barber, 1984). It is also very important to start designing the graduation with civic honors program with this end in mind. One of the first steps is to identify how the program can realize the vision of what is possible (Covey, 1989).

This vision of what is possible includes all of the individuals within the community. All of these individuals can gain from realization of the vision of the university. This vision should allow the community to organize in a way that capitalizes upon both what is possible and what already exists within the community. The vision involves recognizing and leveraging the strengths of individuals to serve the needs of the community. Thinking about what is possible for the individual within a given community is essential to connecting the worlds of possibility and potential accomplishment. Some skepticism exists about whether or not it is possible to change civil society by developing programs to respond to practical problems within society (Dionne, 1998). The questions result from the assumption that strengthening civil society is such a noble idea that programs do not receive an appropriate level of scrutiny. Any reservations about the graduation with civic honors program should and will receive attention within the following pages.

What occurs within this vision is a program that, over time, recruits a body of individuals to participate within the community. It is important to identify an extensive pool of individuals within the university. Many individuals have the potential to make a difference in the community. The university can bridge with organizations within the community to create seamless access for individuals interested in volunteering. Moreover, this program creates a powerful dynamic between the community’s needs and the university, which fits the mission of most universities. Within the current civil society, this power dynamic already may exist within some organizations. To create an environment conducive to change, the entire community does not have to be willing to participate in the civic honors program, but the entire community should know that the program exists. It may take some bold and strong organizations that are willing to start graduation with civic honors programs to get the ball rolling. Each person graduating with civic honors has the potential to be a community leader who can provide not only vision but also long-term stewardship of the ideas behind the introduction of a civic honors program.

This charge is important to the community overall because it opens the door for not only leadership but also realistic change within the community. Many students are already volunteering in the community, perhaps through a service learning program on campus or as part of a church, synagogue, or club initiative. The civic honors program relies on a partnership to get people involved and to allow organizations to communicate their needs to the community. The charge specifically is to foster the development of community by making it easier for individuals to participate within the community, while creating visible recognition at graduation for those who worked for the community as well as for themselves. This simple idea is the backbone of mobilizing thinking of the community as a network of individuals with infinite potential that can strengthen the community. A university can become a strategic partner with the community, willing to facilitate communication between individuals and organizations from the perspective that anything is possible.

Transforming the vision of a civic honors program into a reality involves a considerable amount of leadership and innovation. The university may view the creation of a civic honors program also from the perspective that it is a bridge to enhance connection between the university and the community by enabling individual action to strengthen the community. Understanding what is possible through the civic honors program involves being able to see the new levels of potential broader community impact. A graduation with civic honors program endeavors to unlock a world of potential that transcends the walls of the university and strengthens the social fabric of the community.

GWCH Chapter 2: What is Civic Honors?

The idea of civic honors is for the community to be able to acknowledge those individuals who are active participants within the community.

The current design of the graduation with civic honors program requires implementation by a university to bridge academics and involvement in community. The implementation of this idea involves connecting education to society, first at the university level, then at the national level by replication of the program. A positive underlying message of the graduation with civic honors program is the possibility to spread change within the community. Graduation with civic honors can become a part of the very fabric of the community. The program is inherently sounding the call for individuals to play a larger role in fulfilling the needs of the community by finding not only organizations that they feel benefit the community, but also organizations with which program members want to work. The program begins with the college providing the opportunity for individuals to volunteer within the community and by providing an accurate list and descriptions of opportunities that will allow these individuals to find opportunities that resonate with them.

Graduation with civic honors provides a platform for a message about the opportunities to work with the community. The first step is speaking to individuals, organizations, and universities that have the potential to develop vibrant graduation with civic honors programs. The message is about what is possible within the community and how to use technology to bring people together. A graduation with civic honors program strives to create a positive message about the potential of community. Replication is imperative for success. Graduation with civic honors can be more than a program at one university in one community; it should expand to society in general.

It is critical to be aware that resistance to change may occur as a response to changes to traditional ways individuals become involved in the community. This is critical during the early development of the program (Osborne & Gaebler, 1992) but may continue to be an issue. A goal of the program is to work within the community without regard for politics but for the benefit of the society, drawing out the civility or the virtue of citizens to enhance society (Rouner, 2000). The program allows citizens to develop a strong sense of community while empowering them with the belief that action is possible. The process creates a model of proactive behavior that enhances volunteering within the community (Bell, 1999).

The graduation with civic honors concept relies on the university as a principle source for implementing and designing the civic honors program. It is possible for any college to implement and design the program. This does not mean that universities are the only organizations within the community that can be the instruments for change to develop their own civic honors programs. Therefore, during the formative period, the discussion at a university also could be a model for organizations in local and regional networks. The positive nature of the message that the civic honors programs can spread does not exclude any actor or organizations from participation. Collaboration and inclusion is the basic assumption that will enable community building in any community and develop a stronger society as a whole. The discussion of civic society in America does not rely on the assumption that civil society is inherent to democratization. Organizations within the community are capable of broadening the concept of civil society in a way that really can benefit the community (Stanton, 1999).

GWCH Chapter 1: What is Civic Engagement?

Society has experienced a true revival of public interest in civic engagement.

Robert Putnam’s (2000) epic work Bowling Alone brought the idea of civic participation to the forefront of the public mind. The value of civic participation is essential to the process of value implementation in the form of civic engagement. Civic engagement is a value choice, and the implementation of that value choice is individual civic participation in the community. One of the most basic definitions of civic engagement involves thinking about how government, society, and citizens interact. In terms of how scholars discuss civic engagement, the definition takes on a benevolent feel, referencing citizen activities that benefit civil society. Strengthening civic engagement, in practice, involves building civic skills, increasing active voter participation, and using public service announcements to encourage volunteering to strengthen civil society. Watershed events like 9-11 have created a reflective sense of national interest and significantly increased the willingness of individuals to participate in civic engagement.

The best way to describe civic engagement is to take a step back from current views and look from the perspective of the potential benefits that higher civic engagement provides society. Civic engagement is increasing civic participation by encouraging participation in civil society. That participation could come in the form of volunteering, campaigning, or even discussing community issues with neighbors. Increasing civic participation through civic engagement breaks down the disconnect between individuals and the community. Robert Putnam (2000) clearly made the case that individuals within modern society largely have replaced community activities with social isolation. Helping to break down the disconnect between the individual and the community is valuable to strengthening the community. Reciprocally, strengthening the community through civic engagement increases the amount of active participation within the community.

How does one spread the ethic of civic engagement? Civic engagement has to come from fostering strong community leadership from both professionals and community organization leaders. These leaders give the community a significant advantage by creating a long-term vision for increasing civic engagement. Civic participation through active civic engagement can involve spreading the ethic of volunteerism. Allowing individuals to work for community organizations is an important part of growing the capacity and size of civic engagement within the community.

Defining civic engagement in terms of communities involves identifying three different types of communities. We have communities of place, idea, and circumstance. Individuals can participate in issues associated with the place where they live as a form of civic participation based on engaging in core issues that determine the structure of the community. Neighborhood groups have the potential to facilitate civic engagement by offering a venue for civic participation in the community. Civic engagement also can be fostered by communities of ideas where individuals within the community can come together to participate in dialogue and action about specific issues. Civic engagement surrounding communities of circumstance often focuses on volunteering and resolving community-oriented problems.

Now is the time to move forward to increase civic engagement within civil society. Civic engagement is a most important emerging value because of its potential to strengthen the social fabric and the community as a whole. Programs like graduation with civic honors can encourage practical solutions to increasing civic engagement like emphasizing the necessity of recognizing a commitment to civic engagement. Graduation with civic honors is a way to institutionalize the encouragement of civic engagement through official and public recognition. Society should recognize that academic achievement and civic engagement go hand in hand. For higher education to benefit society, educators cannot merely educate people. Educators must strive to educate people to become good citizens. Building a good society fosters a community that encourages collaboration and engagement from every citizen within society.

Higher education is the key to moving forward as a society. We have to be able to educate future generations about the importance of civic engagement. Being able to inform future generations of the potential benefits of increasing civic engagement through encouraging volunteering and civic participation is essential to building a stronger society. Civic engagement truly is the ability of an individual to be a vibrant part of the community by participating in the betterment of society. However, devising practical ideas that can encourage civic engagement is more difficult than it sounds. That is why high-reward, low-cost solutions like graduation with civic honors can bring civic engagement to the forefront of higher education.

Currently, the Civic Honors Project lobbies to spread the word about graduation with civic honors and strives to work and collaborate with organizations that have an impact on the community. The current graduation with civic honors initiative focuses on identifying potential avenues for expanding the number of higher education institutions offering graduation with civic honors.

The Graduation With Civic Honors Story

Believing in a dream like graduation with civic honors is only the first step in the process toward advocating the creation of a graduation with civic honors program.

The story behind graduation with civic honors began in an academic setting during the spring semester of 2002 at the University of Kansas. I took a class from Dr. H. George Frederickson entitled Concepts of Civil Society. During the Concepts of Civil Society class, my collegiate interests focused on civic engagement. At one point during the class, Dr. Frederickson posed a question to the class about what colleges could do to get people involved within the community. Over the course of the next year thinking about the idea of civil society, I became interested in pursuing a degree in the field of public administration. Thanks to the faculty of the Public Administration Department at the University of Kansas, I decided to endeavor to enter graduate school. I would like to thank Dr. Raymond Davis for advice and guidance, Dr. Thomas Longoria for defining the importance of collaboration, and Dr. H. George Frederickson for a thoughtful introduction to the world of civil society.

Graduation with civic honors was only a dream until late in 2002. Dr. Charles J. Carlsen, the president of Johnson County Community College, learned of the idea from Susan Lindahl and, along with the board of trustees and civic honors steering committee, envisioned becoming the first community college in the state of Kansas to designate a graduation with civic honors. In 2004, after Johnson County Community College developed the initial graduation with civic honors pilot program, the next step was to start spreading the graduation with civic honors message. I was honored to submit an article with Dr. Charles J. Carlsen and Susan Lindahl entitled, “Civic Honors Program at Johnson County Community College,” to the Journal for Civic Commitment for publication. The resulting publication (Carlsen, Lindahl, & Lindahl, 2004) was the first step toward globally sharing the positive message of graduation with civic honors.

To realize the dream, students actually would have to graduate with civic honors. During the May 2005 graduation at Johnson County Community College, the dream became a reality when four students—including Deborah DeGrate, Carrie Donham, Chris Engle, and Jennifer Pittman-Leeper—were the first to graduate with civic honors. The story will be complete when students all over the world are graduating with civic honors.


Civic Honors Scholarship at OCCC Announced

A new civic honors scholarship was recently announced at Oklahoma City Community College (OCCC). The official news release noted, “The Dr. Marion Paden Distinguished Leadership Award will, for the first time this spring, recognize an OCCC Civic Honors student who demonstrates academic excellence, outstanding campus involvement and quality commitment to service in the Oklahoma City community.” Congratulations to everyone at OCCC for setting a great standard for civic engagement and service learning.