Community Engagement Professionals in the Circle of Service-Learning and the Greater Civic Enterprise

Lina Dostilio & Mandi McReynolds

Community engaged professionals (CEPs) play critical roles in sustaining and pushing forward SLCE practice. It behooves us to develop within the community of CEPs a shared commitment to embrace our identities as practitioner-scholars, to clarify and leverage our respective disciplinary training, to develop systemic thinking, and to act as connectors across our institutions and beyond.


We believe that for SLCE to flourish, we must recognize and develop the role [of] Community Engagement Professionals … as part of the circle of SLCE (CEPs, Dostilio, forthcoming; Jacoby & Mutascio, 2010; McReynolds & Shields, 2015).

CEPs are usually seen primarily as supportive staff facilitating the connectivity between points within and around the circle. However, … we also influence who is part of the circle; encourage those in the circle to be centered on and uphold civic ideals; strengthen those in the circle by providing professional development, promoting promising practices, and holding collaborators and institutions accountable; orient the constituencies in the circle toward the future by keeping abreast of trends and pushing beyond the current edges of practice; and hold a mirror to the constituencies in the circle through critical reflection on practice.

[Our] unique contributions … lie in marrying a disciplinarily-framed conversation with community-practice knowledge …, traversing the actual and perceived boundaries of academic departments as well as community and campus. … CEPs have much to contribute by way of complicating the academy’s disciplinary and epistemological approaches to civic issues and public problem-solving.

CEPs exhibit strategic institutional leadership when we connect the dots between distinct activities and … larger … institutional efforts to graduate engaged citizens, attract and retain civically committed faculty, and contribute knowledge and collaborators to the coalitions seeking to address pressing social

and environmental concerns. The implication – the challenge – for CEPs is to think systemically and see our work as promoting the larger civic purpose of higher education. …

We must take it upon ourselves to … help the next generation of CEPs develop into the institutional strategic leaders and practitioner-scholars needed for SLCE to flourish in the future. It is “time to dive deep and grow the profession” (McReynolds, 2015a).


Dostilio, L. D. (forthcoming). The professionalization of community engagement: Associations and professional staff. In C. Dolgon, T. Eatman, & T. Mitchell (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of service-learning and community engagement. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

Jacoby B. & Mutascio, P. (2010). Looking in reaching out: A reflective guide for community service-learning professionals (pp. V.-VI.). Boston: Campus Compact.

McReynolds, M. (2015a). Reflections from an editor. In M. McReynolds & E. Shields (Eds.), Diving deep in community engagement: A model for professional development (pp. 5-7). Des Moines, IA: Iowa Campus Compact.

McReynolds, M., & Shields, E. (Eds.). (2015). Diving deep in community engagement: A model for professional development. Des Moines, IA: Iowa Campus Compact.

LINA D. DOSTILIO (dostilioL@duq.edu) directs the Center for Community-Engaged Teaching and Research at Duquesne University in Pennsylvania. In this capacity, she facilitates teaching and research collaborations that involve university stakeholders in public problem solving across an array of social and environmental issues. Lina served as Chair of the Board of Directors of the International Association for Research on Service-Learning and Community Engagement and is the lead scholar on Campus Compact’s Research Project on the Community Engagement Professional.

MANDI MCREYNOLDS (mandimcreynoldsconsulting@gmail.com) is an author, educator, and scholar in SL and civic engagement and currently serves as a consultant and as Director of Community Engagement and Service-Learning at Drake University. She is co-editor of Diving Deep in Community Engagement: A Model for Professional Development and has spent her career building community engagement and leadership programs at three different institutions. Mandi was honored with the Iowa Campus Compact Engaged Staff Award in 2011.

Interested in reading the full text of this article?  Click here for the full essay.

3 thoughts on “Community Engagement Professionals

  1. Lori E. Kniffin says:

    Several practitioner-scholars met in a pre-conference session at IARSLCE in November 2015. As urged in this framing essay, conversation around practitioner-scholar identity is necessary for the future of SLCE. Read this blog to learn more about the pre-conference session and post your comments here to continue the conversation. http://slce-fdp.org/2015/11/23/future-directions-of-practitioner-scholars-in-community-and-civic-engagement-discussions-from-the-international-association-for-research-on-service-learning-and-civic-engagement/


    1. Karthik says:

      Community engagement can take many forms, and “community partners” can include organized groups, agencies, institutions, or individuals within the community. Community partners represent community interests, needs, and/or concerns because they are both knowledgeable about and empowered to represent that community.


  2. Paul Matthews says:

    As we think about the structural variability in these CEP roles, I wonder about how convergent their activities and competencies will prove be, given the diversity of location, institutional reporting structures, faculty/staff roles, and other significant variables. (To what extent is a SLCE “Center” at the “center”?) The ongoing research project should help clarify to what extent there are in fact a consistent set of skills and practices, versus divergent or possibly particular groupings that relate to these structural differences.

    This article also has me wondering about the second generation of CEP’s and where and how they are being prepared for their roles. While it does seem to be accurate that most people in these roles now have come from particular disciplinary backgrounds outside of SLCE, increasingly it also seems possible for a (graduate) student to focus on this as a potential career path, something that was not the case during many of our own educational histories. (At least four of the past graduate students who have worked or interned in our office of service learning, for instance, are now in community engagement professional roles– yet, even so, there is not a particularly well crafted pathway at our university that exists to do that.) We have Campus Compact’s “Diving In” institute; well-attended sessions for new/future directors at Gulf-South Summit and other conferences, etc. Given discussion (e.g., Dan Butin’s work) on the “disciplining” of this field, I wonder what this might look like in terms of a formally crafted, well thought out graduate program to prepare future CEP’s?


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