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.

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