This week, our goal here at Career and Professional Development is to help students learn new ways to get involved in their communities to prepare them for the career goals and allow for them to start learning skills while still in school.
For guidance, we interviewed Anthony Medina who is the Assistant Director of the Center for Community Engagement at Gonzaga.
How does CCE help students get involved?
Anthony: The Center for Community Engagement (CCE) coordinates community and public service programs, including community engaged learning courses, community-based volunteer and outreach programs, and volunteer/advocacy projects. We offer a variety of opportunities to support causes that matter in our world, and serve to develop valuable leadership skills and carry out Gonzaga’s Jesuit mission of working in and with communities.
Where are the service opportunities located?
Anthony: In typical times, we offer opportunities to engage in many different locations. From volunteering locally with one of our many non-profit partners, to mentoring youth in our public schools and here on campus, to engaging deeply with communities across the country through our immersion programs, our programs provide students with the opportunity to engage in meaningful community engagement and transformative work.
When should students start looking for service opportunities?
Anthony: We offer opportunities to engage in the community year-round. For those students taking a community-engaged learning (CEL) class, we recommend starting your search early at the beginning of each semester. Additionally, most of our CCE programs require at least a semester-long commitment, so connecting at the beginning of each semester is also recommended. Throughout the semester, we can help connect you to one-time service opportunities and opportunities out in the community. Our current context has placed restrictions on one-time and group opportunities to serve. Reach out to find out more about individual programs and partners!
How can students still get involved, despite the COVID restrictions?
Anthony: While our current context has placed many barriers to in-person community engagement activities during the COVID-19 pandemic, there is still a great need and opportunity to collaborate with our community partners in positive and meaningful ways through hybrid, remote, and virtual community engagement activities.
These altered ways of engagement are new to many of us, but with flexibility, patience, and in a spirit of solidarity we have still been able meet our goals of addressing community-identified needs and provide meaningful experiences for our students.
Although our opportunities to connect in-person may be limited, we know from our community partners, that meaningful connection and engagement in our communities are more important than ever.
What is the most important thing for students to remember when looking for ways to get involved in the community?
Anthony: There are so many important things to consider when looking for ways to get involved in our community. For students looking to get involved, holding a spirit of reciprocity is extremely important. Reciprocity involves building mutually beneficial relationships that benefit you, as a student, and our community partners, meeting community-identified needs. Our student have this great energy and a wonderful passion for engaging with our community. But this is slow work that requires relationship and developing partnerships built on trust and mutual respect, with shared vision, voice, and power. A good place to start is to participate in programs that are already established instead of trying to start a new initiative. I would also say, let the community lead. We all have great ideas for programs and ways we can “help”. But the work shouldn’t center us and our desire to help. That can lead to “saviorism” which is harmful to our community and is the opposite of responsible engagement. Reciprocity means that we value our community partner’s expertise, recognizing them as sources of perspective and wisdom. Holding reciprocity at the center of our engagement sets us up for a successful partnership.
How can students who didn’t return to campus still get involved?
Anthony: For students who did not return to campus, there are still plenty of ways to be involved this year. Some of our programming has been reimagined to include virtual engagement. Our Youth Programs and Initiatives have shifted to include virtual mentoring opportunities. Our Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice program has also shifted to be delivered virtually and engage our students in advocacy no matter where they are situated this year. Many of our community partners in Spokane have also had to reimagine engagement and have begun to offer ways for students to engage remotely. Remote students can also join us for our monthly online Zoom show “Community Chat” which is designed to share the good work happening in our community and introduce our students to critical issues and topics in the Spokane community. Finally, we have partnered with university partners across Spokane to offer Learning Together Spokane, a public, virtual learning environment, bringing Spokane professionals alongside college and university students for shared, weekly reflection. For more information about these offerings and other alterations to our service opportunities, please go to www.gonzaga.edu/cce and view “All Service Opportunities.”
How can CCE pair with Career and Professional Development to help students find the opportunities they are looking for?
Anthony: The CCE and CPD have some established programs that can help students find ways to engage in their communities. The CCE works closely with Career and Professional Development to host a Post-Graduate Service Fair in the Fall and a Careers in Social Justice Panel in the Spring with the aim of helping student connect their passion for serving community with their career aspirations. Serving with a public or nonprofit agency full-time after graduation is a great way to explore a career, pursue a passion, and develop skills and knowledge.
How can performing service benefit the lives of students, but also their communities?
Anthony: Wow! There are so many benefits to engaging with our communities. Both for students and for our community partners and neighbors. For our students, engaging with service through the CCE provides them with the opportunity to better know their own communities, to explore critical social justice issues more deeply, to connect their academic learning with community knowledge, and to make meaningful connections with peers and community members. For our communities, partnering with Gonzaga helps build capacity for the work they’re already doing, allows them to tap into students’ energy, and can help solve issues facing the community in collaboration with the academic knowledge present at a university. When we develop authentic relationships with one another, the outcomes are transformative for both the student and our communities.