Defining Community Engagement

Helpful definitions:


Community: A group of people external to the campus who are affiliated by geographic proximity, special interest, similar situation or shared values. Communities may share characteristics such as age, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation.


Partnership: Sustained collaboration between institutions of higher education and communities for the mutually beneficial exchange, exploration, and application of knowledge, information, and resources. Examples are research, capacity building, or economic development. 


Community Engagement: The collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in the context of partnership and reciprocity. It can involve partnerships and coalitions that help mobilize resources and influence systems and serve as catalysts for initiating and/or changing policies, programs, and practices. 


Community-Based Teaching/Learning: A pedagogical approach that connects students and faculty with activities that address community-identified needs through mutually beneficial partnerships that deepen students' academic and civic learning. Examples are service- learning courses or service-learning clinical practica.


Community-Based Research: A collaborative process between the researcher and community partner that creates and disseminates knowledge and creative expression with the goal of contributing to the discipline and strengthening the well-being of the community. Community-based research (CBR) identifies the assets of all stakeholders and incorporates them in the design and conduct of the different phases of the research process.


Public Service: The application and provision of institutional resources, knowledge or services that directly benefits the community. Public service may entail the delivery of expertise, resources and services to the community.


Public Interest Research: Any research in any field or discipline using any method that is intentionally framed around the pursuit of individual human flourishing or community well-being.


Community Engaged Course Criteria

In 2019, the University of Virginia convened the Civic Engagement Learning Assessment Subcommittee. This group of faculty and staff worked to prepare UVA for a SCHEV-mandated assessment of institutional civic engagement learning outcomes. During this process, the group considered whether courses prepared students to be civically engaged ("Level 1" courses) and/or whether the courses involved active engagement with outside communities ("Level 2" courses). 

Level 1: Foundations of Community Engagement

  1. A substantial portion of class time is devoted to exploring the different aspects of authentic community engagement theory and practice. Examples of topics may include, but not be limited to:
    • Asset-based approach to community
    • Issues of power and privilege, both historical and current, from a local and national perspective
    • Deconstructing stereotypes and addressing implicit bias in working with community members
    • Importance of reciprocity and co-creation of knowledge
  2. Students will reflect on what they learn and how it impacts their own sense of identity and understanding of community through writing, faculty led- and small group discussion.

Level 1 Learning outcomes related to some combination of the following:

  1. Know and understand:  
    • Democratic and other forms of governance  
    • Rights and responsibilities of community members  
    • Conditions that foster or undermine healthy societies  
    • Their own identities and backgrounds  
  2. Are able to:
    • Seek, analyze and evaluate different points of view about civic issues  
    • Articulate and clarify their commitment to citizenship and social responsibility  


Level 2: Community Engagement in Practice

  1. Community Engagement courses must incorporate a substantial experiential or community focused component in which all students are required to participate.
  2. Students must receive appropriate preparation for this component consistent with the scope of Level 1 courses.
  3. Courses must be situated in a partnership characterized by reciprocity, where the community has identified a need or project that brings benefits to both partners. Communication between partners should be regular and include evaluative feedback on student activities with the community partner.
  4. Students must have opportunities to analyze, interpret, or reflect on their course experience--both with faculty and other students--and assessment of this work should play a significant role in overall course assessment.

Level 2 Learning outcomes related to some combination of the following:

  1. Demonstrate:
    • Openness and curiosity about others
    • Empathy and humility when working with different people and communities  
  2. Are able to:
    • Connect and apply knowledge from academic study to civic engagement experience
    • Work constructively with community partners to address important civic issues