Winding Pathways to Engagement: Creating a Front Door

Lori E. Kniffin, Timothy J. Shaffer, & Mary H. Tolar


Members of a younger generation of practitioner-scholars have now experienced SLCE in undergraduate or graduate education and seek ways to integrate it into their professional lives. [Their] stories suggest to us the importance of supporting the ongoing development of the SLCE movement through more explicit, direct, formalized, and institutionalized points of entry into the work. In this essay we call for increased attention to the potential for graduate education to serve as a doorway into to SLCE, and we suggest the importance of designing it with an eye to its key role in shaping how incoming SLCE practitioner-scholars understand and undertake the work (e.g., with a deficit-based or an asset-based orientation rather than a deficit-based one or, as an integrated part of their lives rather than or an add-on to their other responsibilities).

We share here an example of a front door we have been building to illustrate an approach to doctoral education that could support the holistic development of SLCE practitioner-scholars: a new doctoral program centered on community-engaged scholarship at Kansas State University. This is just one example of what we think a front door could look like for graduate students. The important thing is that we find ways to cultivate interest in and access to community-engaged work instead of letting passionate people get lost or discouraged along the way.

Beyond the need for such points of entry, per se, we have a lot of work to do to transform institutions of higher education so that they better support the work of SLCE (on the other side of the door, as it were) and better organize to address complex issues in our world (for many, the reason for looking for a doorway to begin with). We believe all of these goals can be advanced through the design of graduate level fronts doors.

LORI E. KNIFFIN (lekniffi@uncg.edu) is a doctoral student in Cultural Foundations of Education and a graduate assistant at the Institute for Community and Economic Engagement at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Her scholarly interests include food justice, community dialogue, and democratic classrooms. She is the 2016-2017 SLCE Future Directions Project Fellow and Chair of the International Association for Research on Service-Learning and Community Engagement (IARSLCE) Graduate Student Network.

TIMOTHY J. SHAFFER (tjshaffer@k-state.edu) is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies and assistant director of the Institute for Civic Discourse and Democracy at Kansas State University. His research interests focus on the advancement of democratic engagement through deliberative democracy and citizen engagement in higher education and community settings. He is co-editor of Deliberative Pedagogy: Teaching and Learning for Democratic Engagement to be published by Michigan State University Press.

MARY H. TOLAR (mtolar@k-state.edu) is director of the Staley School of Leadership Studies at Kansas State University. She works with faculty and staff to provide learning experiences for more than 1000 students in an interdisciplinary leadership studies minor as well as for the wider campus community through the School’s array of applied learning programs. Her research interests focus on the art and practice of civic leadership development, women’s pathways to public service leadership, and undergraduate leadership development through applied learning.

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