Graduate Certificate Focuses on Community Outreach and Public Scholarship

Notre Dame offers many opportunities for undergraduate service and engagement in South Bend and elsewhere – SSLPs and ISSLPs, local internships, and volunteer positions on campus, for example. Unbeknownst to many undergraduates, the university offers similar opportunities to graduate students.  One such program, the Graduate Certificate in Community Engagement and Public Scholarship, provides graduate students with a chance to explore opportunities for engagement.

The three tenets of the certificate – workshops, immersion, and integration – encourage graduate students to boost their involvement in South Bend and beyond.  Workshops include lectures on Catholic social teaching, research practices, and the history of community engagement, while the immersion component consists of service trips (Social Concerns seminars and work with the Common Good Initiative, for example). The integration step, meanwhile, allows students to present their research in posters, digital portfolios, and essays.  The certificate lasts between 1-3 years and is free of charge (not including any costs incurred during the Immersion portion).

A November 16th workshop, entitled “Community Engagement and Higher Education: History, Contexts and Future,” focused on pedagogical, psychological, and cultural aspects of community outreach and service.  Professor of Psychology Jay Brandenberger discussed the educational theory behind community engagement, speaking mainly within the context of Notre Dame’s community involvement.

Brandenberger defined four “frames of engaged learning” – active learning, experiential learning, multidisciplinary learning, and service learning – and discussed the history of community engagement.  According to Brandenberger, universities have evolved from “ivory towers” to institutions focused on service and community involvement.  Notre Dame has shared in this evolution: the Center for Social Concerns, founded in 1983, remains one of the largest engagement-focused university institutions in America. Today, Notre Dame comprises a part of Campus Compact, a national coalition of universities dedicated to furthering community impact in higher education. Over 1000 colleges worldwide make up Campus Compact, with other involved institutions ranging from community colleges to Ivy League universities. In addition, the Carnegie Foundation has identified Notre Dame as one of hundreds of “community engagement classified” institutions around the country.

Professor Brandenberger, in addition to describing the pedagogy of outreach, also discussed other methods of service and engagement in South Bend. He named the Robinson Community Learning Center, EngageND, and the Community Engagement Coordinating Council, among several other institutions.  Brandenberger also identified several books for students interested in engagement – Going Public, Dewey’s Dream, Scholarship Reconsidered and Collaborative Futures.

The workshop alternated between lecture and discussion.  At one point, graduate students were encouraged to brainstorm methods of changing the graduate school culture and encouraging Notre Dame’s community engagement.  One student raised the idea of shortening the PhD program.  Another posited that political engagement, which remains strained in today’s polarized world, would produce more fruitful results if approached from a rational, rather than emotional, angle.

Brandenberger discussed the effects of engagement not only on the community, but on students themselves. He emphasized the importance of getting involved during college, stating that “the college years are ripe for development of cognitive capacities, purpose and commitments worthy of time and energy.” Brandenberger also discussed several studies (from Notre Dame and other institutions) that found correlations between college-age community service and success later in life.  One study showed that people who left college with a desire to improve the world had higher levels of integrity when assessed thirteen years later.  These studies can be accessed online.

The workshop concluded with Professor Brandenberger’s advice to graduate students interested in community engagement. Brandenberger suggested that students attend conferences, discuss community engagement plans with their advisors, apply for grants, and enroll in more workshops and immersion experiences.

According to Brandenberger, Notre Dame should take more steps to engage with the South Bend community. “Like all aspects of education, there are ways to improve,” Brandenberger stated. “The Community Engagement Coordinating Council at Notre Dame has developed a new strategic plan that outlines a set of objectives to enhance community engagement. Since Notre Dame has many relevant commitments to engagement, integration across initiatives and enhanced depth in identified areas would be natural next steps.”

When asked to describe his favorite aspect of the certificate, Brandenberger stated, “I enjoy how the Graduate Certificate for Community Engagement and Public Scholarship brings together students from across disciplines and engages them in thinking about how their expertise and gifts can serve the world’s needs. The students’ energy and interest is contagious.”

Alison O’Neil is a sophomore History and Environmental Sciences major who enjoys Five Guys cheese dogs, hot chocolate from the Huddle, and memes.  You can contact her at