Virginia Tech has launched a Center for Student Engagement and Community Partnerships to coordinate partnerships, service, and experiential learning activities, and to develop faculty and partner capacity for community-university engagement. Associate Professor James Dubinsky, who co-chaired Virginia Tech's Task Force on Student Engagement, is directing the new center.

Virginia Tech is a national leader in community engagement, considered by state universities and land-grant colleges as an imperative for higher education in the 21st century, both to prepare students for the modern workforce and to mutually enrich communities and higher education through the exchange of ideas and knowledge.

“Working with our numerous partners outside the university can create a ‘virtuous circle,’” said Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger, in announcing the center’s creation. “This way we're better able to educate our students and generate new knowledge because of the experiences and talents we gain by engaging with business, civic organizations, governments, and communities.”

The Norris Hall Task Force, formed in the aftermath of Virginia Tech’s 2007 tragedy, recommended creation of the Center for Student Engagement and Community Partnerships, which will develop a unique, Virginia Tech Model for Student Engagement. Initially located in Litton Reeves Hall, the center is expected to move into its new facilities in Burruss Hall next fall, consolidating the university’s many student engagement activities.

One of the most important functions of the Center for Student Engagement and Community Partnerships is to act as a vehicle for coordination and communication between campus and community in order to further the university's land-grant mission and help students live its motto: Ut Prosim (That I May Serve). Dedicated to creating and sustaining reciprocal partnerships that are respectful of all parties’ strengths and needs, the center will help to enrich and strengthen the university's discovery and learning missions.

The new center now houses the former Service-Learning Center, directed by Michele James-Deramo, and VT-ENGAGE, coordinated by Karen Gilbert. These two initiatives are central to the center's work; they enhance student outcomes, integrate service and community experiences into the curriculum, and support the needs of Virginia Tech communities. Dubinsky is collaborating with the faculty and staff of these programs to implement the Virginia Tech Model for Student Engagement. Three graduate assistants and four undergraduate work-study students are supporting these efforts.

Virginia Tech’s highly successful Service-Learning Center has worked with faculty to incorporate community service into coursework for over a decade, and has mobilized student volunteers to work on community projects from War, W. Va., to Grundy, Va., to Roanoke. Over one million dollars in grants have supported the center’s work. Student experiences include assisting immigrants in adjusting to life in a new country and processing donations for the Second Harvest Food Bank in Salem, Va.

VT-ENGAGE is the university’s volunteer initiative launched last October to honor those we lost April 16, 2007, and to rededicate the university community to the Virginia Tech motto of service. The Virginia Tech community served and recorded more than 325,000 hours for organizations and communities from Virginia to India during VT-ENGAGE’s first year.

By centralizing student engagement activities under one office, Virginia Tech plans to strengthen existing programs as it develops new initiatives. The new center will take community partnerships and student engagement to a new level for the university.

“Engaged students contribute to their local, national, and international communities while they develop personal, professional, leadership, and citizenship skills,” says Steger. “Virginia Tech has a strong heritage of engagement and community service. “ We are deeply committed to enhancing our outreach and engagement mission, by working with others for the common good.”

Dubinsky is the founding director of Virginia Tech’s Professional Writing Program in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Science’s Department of English, a program he championed because he believed that students would benefit from a teaching model that involves coursework related to future job assignments and service learning.

According to Provost Mark McNamee, “Jim Dubinsky has a history of creating programs that quickly rise to national prominence and leadership. The new center is in more than capable hands, and our community has an ardent supporter here at Virginia Tech in Jim’s presence.”

A recent winner of a college award for outreach and the university’s teacher-scholar award, Dubinsky’s research focuses on community-university partnerships. He is the author/editor of Teaching Technical Communication, has contributed to journals such as the Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, and recently edited an issue of TCQ on civic engagement. Jim is also vice-chair of the board for the YMCA at Virginia Tech.

Virginia Tech’s achievements as an engaged university are legion. The university received the first competitively awarded J. Peter Magrath/Kellogg Award for Community Engagement from the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges in 2007 for its partnership with Southside, Va., stakeholders in creating off-campus research programs as tools for economic development in a depressed area. The Institute for Advanced Learning and Research in Danville is the result. This groundbreaking effort provides the model for similar collaborations now underway in other Virginia communities. Virginia Tech, also a Carnegie Foundation-classified Engaged University, annually conducts a unique, total-immersion training program on community engagement for leaders from other colleges and universities.

The Center for Student Engagement and Community Partnerships is part of Outreach Program Development at Virginia Tech, directed by Jeri Childers, who co-chaired the Task Force on Student Engagement with Dubinsky. Both are part of Virginia Tech’s Outreach and International Affairs.

Engagement is the term used by the higher education community for sympathetic and productive involvement with communities characterized by commitment to sharing and reciprocity, as well as mutual respect among the partners for what each brings to the table.