Volume:3, Issue: 2

Dec. 1, 2011

Education for Social Engagement: learning in the service of self and society in a global environment
Rojcewicz, P. [about] , Hormann, Sh. [about]

DESCRIPTORS: a visionary community of learning, innovative approach, education for social engagement, sustainability, discovery, integration, collaboration.
SYNOPSIS: The article presents an innovative project Education for Social Engagement that has been implemented at Antioch University Seattle and allowed to unite the efforts of faculty, students and community in solving a number of social issues. The authors discuss the goals and strategies of the project and describe its long-term results.


Antioch University Seattle is a bold and enduring source of innovation in higher education. Students advance their lives personally and professionally through academic programs, supportive faculty, and community-based activities that respond to the world’s needs. Faculty, staff, students, and alumni collaborate to form a visionary community of learning and action that strikes a rare and essential balance between theoretical idealism and lived experience.

Antioch is known for its innovative approaches to learning. Founded in 1852, Antioch opened its doors to women and African-Americans. In the 1850s, few other colleges took such bold, socially significant steps. Today, Antioch University Seattle (AUS), along with the other four campuses and two trans-campus programs that comprise the system that is Antioch University, continues to foster ground-breaking programs that are part of its social contract with the nation to offer undergraduate and graduate degrees as means of personal transformation, social mobility, informed citizenship, and ecological sustainability.

To renew this tradition and to flourish in the coming decade, AUS is re-visioning its mission, core competencies, learning outcomes, and strategic placement in the educational marketplace that is increasingly global in nature. The complex, interdependence of the world requires that graduates possess new forms of knowledge and practice. Since the world of leadership and work is rapidly changing and thereby demanding new cognitive and creative skills, academic programs must help graduates find their way in the current knowledge-based economy that requires high-order skills, such as adaptability, creativity, critical thinking, synthesis, and project-based inquiry in teams. These are learning outcomes that calibrate with current social challenges and global realities.

A national poll (AAUP) indicated that more than 50% of Americans believe that too much university research is irrelevant to society’s needs. Closer to home, community forums held at the Antioch University Seattle campus indicate that AUS faculty, staff, students, and alumni see social engagement and community service learning as core values of their education and careers. Participants requested challenging opportunities for significant learning, leadership, and work in the public and private sectors. They seek to integrate education with self-growth, meaningful employment, and public service in a global context of diversity and social justice.

Attendees at the campus-wide forums referred to as cauldrons voiced an intention to move beyond learning in academic and support service silos and to construct new programmatic crosswalks and communal spaces that support educational collaboration across traditional dividing lines. Participants noted that the frontiers of knowledge in the worlds of scholarship and work – including topics such as sustainability, global food issues, and expanding human freedom – call for cross-disciplinary inquiry, analysis, and application. As a response to those aspirations that emerged from the forums, the AUS Office of Academic Affairs recommended a programmatic framework and initiative referred to here as The Education for Social Engagement Project. It is a means of making our institutional renewal salutogenic (i.e., health generating) and embodying the narrative of what it means to be Antiochian.


1) The Education for Social Engagement Project shifts the learning process toward active modes of knowledge engagement (learner to learner) and away from passive modes of knowledge transmission/delivery (knower to learner).
2) Students are educated in terms of challenging community-based issues and not simply in terms of facts to be memorized or skills to be mastered. They gain not only valuable academic information but simultaneously learn best practices and professional standards in a community of practice.
3) Faculty and students join with community members in socially challenging, project-based intellectual work. Students learn to understand how the world works in terms of processes, relations, patterns, and systemic wholes and not simply isolated parts.


To realize the vision for AUS as a premier, category-of-one social engagement university with a local public conscience and global perspective, the campus came together in a series of three forums and sharpened its focus around a specific social justice theme. “Sustainability” was identified as the social engagement topic that will define the AUS campus for the years, 2011-2014. The goal of the first year is to highlight and expand academic coursework, as well as building appropriate community partnerships. In years two and three, research teams comprised of faculty, students, and our community partners will address issues of ecological and social sustainability.

AUS has five academic centers or colleges that include the B.A. Degree Completion Program; the School of Education; the School of Applied Psychology, Counseling, and Family Therapy; the Center for Creative Change with graduate degrees in Communication, Environment and Community, Organization Development, and Management and Leadership; and the Center for Teaching and Learning. The Center for Teaching and Learning fosters academic quality and teaching excellence within the AUS community by providing writing courses and academic support for students and workshops, forums and consultations for faculty on innovative collaboration, scholarly activity, and effective, innovative pedagogy.

It is worth noting that academic courses are delivered through a variety of formats. For example, the B.A. Degree Completion Program in Liberal Studies offers courses during the week, as well as through a weekend option. The Center for Creative Change (C3) graduate degree programs are offered on a limited residency basis. C3 graduate students attend class during one extended weekend each month (Friday-Saturday-Sunday) and engage with faculty and peers online in the time between residencies. The limited residency option demonstrates respect for working adults, many of whom maintain full-time jobs and responsibilities with their families while attending graduate school. This limited residency option works well with a cohort model, as it allows for cohort relationship development, experiences in group process, and face-to-face skill transmission and evaluation, as well as online on-going communication and instruction.

While it includes selected courses, faculty, and staff from each of the five academic centers, The Education for Social Engagement Project is not anchored in any one. Rather, it is a “floating” trans-disciplinary program, belonging to AUS as a whole. In this first year, each academic center has selected current courses with service learning/external placement components suitable to the issue of sustainability and continues to develop student learning opportunities within and across the academic centers. Examples include:

  • Graduate Certificates including Sustainable Food Systems and Permaculture Design
  • Individual courses such as Global Environmental Problems and Sustainability
  • Endorsement for elementary and secondary teachers, Environmental & Sustainability Endorsement
  • Dialogue on Thought Series that features AUS faculty, staff, and students in campus-wide conversations
  • Psychology concentration, Eco-psychology
  • Monthly speaker series, Global Issues and Perspectives
  • Personal sustainability workshops including such topics as Suicide Prevention, Stretching Your Financial Resources, and Recovery from Eating Disorders

A series of engagements are underway with commercial, artistic, educational, mental health, and political constituents and leaders in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest for the purpose of identifying issues they face and around which AUS research teams will organize. AUS Board of Trustee members are helpful in establishing such meetings and partnerships. Finally, AUS will survey local, regional, and national colleges and universities, as to the possibility of their partnership in the project. AUS is interested in pursuing local, regional, and global partnerships to further education for social engagement with international colleges and universities.


Over the entryway at AUS is an evocative and challenging quote by the education reformer and statesman, Horace Mann that has as much significance of meaning for Antioch today, as it did more than 150 years ago. In remarks to Antioch College's graduating class of 1859, Mann said, "Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity." The goal of The Education for Social Engagement Project is to continue the Antioch commitment to winning victories for humanity. Toward this end, AUS will strengthen its reputation as an educational innovator by generating specialized, socially relevant research and programming with local and global applications to human and social challenges.

During year two of the project (2012-13), faculty and graduate students will form interdisciplinary research teams that study existing community needs. Faculty members will bring specialized knowledge to bear upon social issues and students will contribute to the well-being of the community, while undergoing transformative experiences that enrich their education. Research efforts and results will be shared across the AUS community and the wider community in which AUS is embedded. As the teams address sustainability, AUS will create a regional, national, and global network of teachers, scholars, researchers, artists, practitioners, and activists.

At the conclusion of the two to three year designated research period, AUS will hold a professional academic conference focused on the findings to the research of The Education for Social Engagement Project. Research teams will present their findings to the community leaders and scholars of partnering institutions and make recommendations for action. Experts who participated in The Education for Social Engagement Project over the duration of the initiative will be invited to present at the conference. Video streaming allows for the conference to be national and even international in scope, as presenters and participants can engage the issues from locations all over the globe.


By engaging a research-based initiative with the goal of joining transdisciplinary learning to human and social challenges, Antioch University Seattle dares to assume leadership that renews progressive education for our times and affirms its unequivocal commitment to diversity and social justice. The Education for Social Engagement Project is an innovative, high-concept and high-touch educational approach to teaching, learning, and collaborative research that supports scholarship and curricular innovation by allowing faculty and graduate student research teams (Discovery) to work collaboratively across Antioch Seattle’s five academic Centers (Integration) and with local, regional, national, and international partners (Collaboration).

Faculty team members will bring their expertise to important community issues, while they themselves learn in ways that inform their andragogy (Teaching) and scholarship. Student team members will contribute to the community’s quality, while gaining valuable life, work, and leadership experience that reinforces their classroom learning. Their research in service of self and society will deepen their understanding of social engagement education by applying (Application) in community settings transdisciplinary knowledge, practice, and skills in service of the greater good of the community and the earth.


Boyer, E. L. (1990). Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate. Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Cantor, N. and Levine, St. D. (2006). Taking Public Scholarship Seriously. Chronicle of Higher Education,  June 9, B20.

College Learning for a Global Economy, A Report from the National Leadership Council and America’s Promise (2007). Washington, D.C.: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Fender, A. (2005). A Subject for Those Who Want to Make a Difference. The New York Times, August 17, B9.

Freeland, R. M. (2006). University-Community Partnerships in Greater Boston. The Chronicle of Higher Education, March 24, A27.

Gross, K. (2005).  A New Approach to Saving Small Colleges. Chronicle of Higher Education, July 22, B12.

Ruffenach, Gl. (2011). Tools to Help the World. The Wall Street Journal, May 9.

Torbet, W. and Sherman Fr., Eds. (2000). Transforming Social Inquiry, Transforming Social Action. Kluwer Academic Publishers.


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