CIC Programs Connect Campus and Community

How can private colleges and universities contribute to the public good? Two CIC initiatives address this question by forging partnerships with community-based organizations and creating opportunities for students to work with members of local communities. The Humanities Research for the Public Good program, which held an inaugural workshop for participants in June 2019, brings humanistic scholarship into communities through student-designed public programs that draw upon institutional library or archival collections. Intergenerational Connections: Students Serving Older Adults, which concluded two years of campus programming with a national conference this July, connects colleges and an often-overlooked population in their communities through student service projects that address the needs of low-income older adults.

“At a time when the public is increasingly skeptical of the societal benefits of colleges and universities,” said CIC President Richard Ekman, “these initiatives highlight the links between CIC member institutions and their surrounding communities, demonstrating the strong positive impact that colleges and universities can have through civic engagement.”


The inaugural Humanities Research for the Public Good workshop took place in Washington, DC, June 26–28. Twenty- five campus teams gathered to share best practices in planning, implementing, and evaluating public humanities projects and forging fruitful partnerships with community organizations.

CIC selected the institutions through a highly competitive application process, with about four proposals for every available slot in the 2019–2020 cohort. Selected teams received a $10,000 grant to implement their projects. Each institutional team— consisting of a faculty member, a collections expert (usually a campus librarian or archivist), and a senior administrator—will collaborate with a local community organization on a project designed to showcase a significant collection of primary source materials held by the institution and address a topic of public concern. Student researchers will explore the collections and design public programs that highlight the relevance of these collections to local community interests and concerns. The public projects will take many forms, including exhibitions and public discussions, documentary films, websites, and podcasts.

Four speakers present from the head table
A session on “What Community Partners Bring to the Table” featured Glenn Johnston of Stevenson University (MD), Kim Sanchez of Connecticut College, and Donald Braid of Butler University (IN), with project director Anne M. Valk as moderator.

The project is directed by Anne M. Valk, associate director for public humanities and lecturer in history at Williams College, who brings to the initiative extensive experience in oral history and public history. For Valk, the goal of the opening workshop was for participants to “come away with tools, resources, motivation, and momentum to launch their projects.” Over the course of three days, institutional teams participated in sessions on project management, collaboration with community-based organizations, and project evaluation (including the impact of public programs on audiences and the impact of public-facing projects on students and their colleges). Participants also gathered in small groups based on their team roles to discuss the different responsibilities of faculty members, collections experts, and administrators in these projects. Kimberly Sanchez, director of community partnerships at Connecticut College, reported that “we really enjoyed connecting with colleagues and the opportunity to work and think critically about our project.”

As they prepared to launch their own projects, workshop participants drew inspiration from past work in the public humanities. A panel discussion on the opening day featured representatives of three CIC member institutions who described successful public humanities initiatives at their colleges, including outcomes and challenges. David Pettegrew, professor of history and archaeology at Messiah College (PA), described the Digital Harrisburg Initiative, an interactive map that tracks Harrisburg’s population over time using census data, and Poetry in Place, a collaboration with local middle schools where the young students work with Messiah undergraduates to write poems based on historical residents. Meredith Clark- Wiltz, associate professor of history at Franklin College (IN), extolled the benefits of public humanities work for students and their institutions, explaining that several of who brings to the initiative extensive experience in oral history and public history. For Valk, the goal of the opening workshop was for participants to “come away with tools, resources, motivation, and momentum to launch their projects.” Over the course of three days, institutional teams participated in sessions on project management, collaboration with community-based organizations, and project evaluation (including the impact of public programs on audiences and the impact of public-facing projects on students and their colleges). Participants also gathered her students who designed an exhibition drawn from the papers of Indiana governor Roger Branigin went on to receive prestigious internships at local cultural organizations. Susan Falciani Maldonado, special collections and archives librarian at Muhlenberg College (PA), demonstrated how a mutually beneficial project could flow from an unmet community need. In this case, the unorganized historic records of the Allentown Band, the oldest civilian concert band in the United States, became the basis of a multi-year project to digitize the collection, collect oral histories, and design an interactive timeline of the band’s history that brought together band members and the college’s librarians, faculty members, and students. During a lunchtime presentation, Stephen Kidd, executive director of the National Humanities Alliance (DC), expanded the scope of examples by introducing the Humanities for All initiative, an interactive database of publicly engaged humanities projects from across the United States.

Other sessions focused on forging effective relationships between colleges and universities and community partners. Valk emphasized that the public humanities depend on “shared authority,” the recognition that all stakeholders contribute different types of knowledge, expertise, and resources. A roundtable discussion on “What Community Partners Bring to the Table” highlighted the need for reciprocity. The panelists advised other workshop participants to consider the needs of community partners alongside those of their own institutions.
According to Donald Braid, director of the Center for Citizenship and Community at Butler University (IN), anyone who undertakes a community-based humanities project should ensure it meets the needs of community partners and should prepare students to engage with the public by training them in humility, empathy, and critical listening. Glenn Johnson, chair of public humanities at Stevenson University (MD), added that an important requirement for students is “to be kind and open to learning from community members.” Connecticut College’s Sanchez, the third panelist, encouraged fellow participants to include representatives of the community partner at every stage of project planning, effectively co-designing the project with them; she also recommended creating a memorandum of understanding to capture the shared vision.

Finally, the June workshop showed the enduring value of the humanities, in the expectation that participants will share the excitement and relevance of humanities scholarship with their communities. In his remarks, Ekman predicted that the projects supported through this initiative will “revivify the study of the humanities” by linking the humanities and the public interest, while also fostering stronger connections between institutions and community organizations. Keynote speaker and noted public historian Edward L. Ayers, Tucker-Boatwright Professor of the Humanities and president emeritus of the University of Richmond (VA), emphasized the relevance of humanities scholarship to address current social problems. Drawing on his involvement in charged public conversations about slavery, Confederate monuments, and segregation in the city of Richmond, Ayers noted the power of the humanities to grapple with this complex history. He emphasized that “the humanities have never mattered more than they do now”— and that the humanities cannot be confined to the classroom or the library.

The first cohort of Humanities Research for the Public Good will reconvene in April 2020 for a closing workshop, when the institutional teams and their student researchers will present the results of their projects. Applications to participate in the second cohort for Humanities Research for the Public Good opened in September, with a deadline of December 13, 2019. This initiative is generously funded through a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.


​Alaska Pacific University
Augustana University (SD)
Berry College (GA)
Bethany College (KS)
Butler University (IN)
Champlain College (VT)
Connecticut College
Daemen College (NY)
Fisk University (TN)
Franklin College (IN)
Gustavus Adolphus College (MN)
Hollins University (VA)
Lewis & Clark College (OR)
​Mars Hill University (NC)
Messiah College (PA)
Oberlin College (OH)
Reinhardt University (GA)
Rust College (MS)
Saint Mary’s College (IN)
Simmons University (MA)
St. Mary’s University (TX)
Stevenson University (MD)
The University of Findlay (OH)
University of Denver (CO)
Wofford College (SC)


Launched in 2016 with the support of the AARP Foundation, CIC’s Intergenerational Connections: Students Serving Older Adults project has created a national network of programs on independent college campuses through which students help low- income older adults (ages 50 and older) tackle key life challenges while the students acquire valuable service learning experience.

The project concluded with a national conference that took place in Washington, DC, July 29–31, 2019. Themed “Fostering Resilience through Intergenerational Connections,” the conference drew teams from institutions participating in both the 2017–2018 and 2018–2019 cohorts. Importantly, the teams brought together faculty and staff members with students and representatives from partnering community organizations. The conference was designed to help teams fulfill four goals: to share the results of their projects; to seek solutions to common problems faced by students, faculty, staff, and older adults in project development; to identify best practices in creating and sustaining programs that help meet the needs of older adults through interactions with college students; and to discuss best practices in student learning and engagement through interaction with older adults.

Five speakers present from the head table
Intergenerational Connections student panelists from Calvin University (MI), Converse College (SC), Shenandoah University (VA), Jarvis Christian College (TX), and Wofford College (SC) discussed approaches they used to address the vulnerabilities of older adults.

A highlight of the conference was the admiration shown by several keynote speakers for the projects conducted by CIC member institutions. During a dinner presentation, Lisa Marsh Ryerson, president of the AARP Foundation, former president of Wells College (NY), and former member of CIC’s Board of Directors, was effusive in praise of the work that had been accomplished by the participants, saying, “I was inspired by your stories of our colleges as anchors of the importance of intergenerational connections.” She emphasized that in a time of great divisions in society that pit one group against another, intergenerational projects are helping to break down tired assumptions about both older adults and college students.

Generations United Executive Director Donna M. Butts also applauded CIC colleges and universities for playing a key role
in defining and elevating promising intergenerational practices, countering a decline in higher education’s involvement with intergenerational work. She invited all participants to become involved with Generations United efforts to connect with leaders of all generations to help build a more caring society. Asserting that both younger and older populations are untapped resources, she offered hope that “people are starting to wake up and smell the demographics.”

Marc Freedman, CEO and president of Encore, also emphasized the need to create connections across age groups, offering an entertaining and fact-filled account of the history of the generations. At the beginning of the 20th century, he said, our society was “age-oblivious and age-integrated.” Over time and for some uplifting reasons (such as child labor laws), age segregation took over, which had the unfortunate result of making older people feel rejected, marginalized, and alienated. He urged the group to reimagine a world in which age is irrelevant, one in which society shifts its concern from extending life expectancy and remaining youthful to improving relations among the generations in ways that benefit all. CIC gave copies of his newest book, How to Live Forever: The Enduring Power of Connecting the Generations, to all participants, and Freedman graciously signed them following his remarks.

Two other sessions focused on the many benefits to college students of interacting with older generations. Jillian Kinzie, associate director of the Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research and the National Survey of Student Engagement Institute, emphasized that equitable, high-quality educational experiences can enhance student learning, success, and career readiness. She offered advice on how an institution’s intergenerational projects could become even more effective vehicles for desired student outcomes: The projects should include transparent expectations that are aligned with specific outcomes, clearly defined learning pathways, opportunities for integration and reflection, and educational practices that engage students at high levels.

Another session demonstrated the efficacy of Kinzie’s advice for curriculum planning and the potential impact that these projects could have on students as well as the older residents they served. Five students, each from a different participating institution (Calvin University [MI], Converse College [SC], Jarvis Christian College [TX], Shenandoah University [VA], and Wofford College [SC]), offered an engaging and lively session that was well received by conference participants. While their approaches to addressing the vulnerabilities of older adults varied considerably—from storytelling, to food preparation, occupational and physical therapy, and sharing uses of digital technology—the students were all enthusiastic about how valuable their experiences had been to their growth and development as students and citizens. Participating in the initiative has led some of the students to plan careers working with older adults and even to change their majors.

In bringing together both cohorts of Intergenerational Connections and showcasing the achievements of individual projects, the conference provided great inspiration to participants as well as offering next steps for sustaining these programs. Gloria Wade Gayles, founding director of Spelman College’s (GA) Independent Scholars’ Oral History Project, said: “The conference changed my life in more ways than I can articulate. In fact, I was so moved by every presentation and experience that I may have talked too much. My cup of joy for information ‘ran’ over…”


​Barton College (NC)
Bennington College (VT)
California Baptist University
Caldwell University (NJ)
Calvin University (MI)
Centenary University (NJ)
Chatham University (PA)
Christian Brothers University (TN)
Coe College (IA)
Colby-Sawyer College (NH)
College of Saint Mary (NE)
Concordia University Wisconsin
Converse College (SC)
Dominican University (IL)
Dominican University of California
Elizabethtown College (PA)
Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady University (LA)
Gwynedd Mercy University (PA)
Hilbert College (NY)
​Jarvis Christian College (TX)
Mercy College (NY)
Meredith College (NC)
Moravian College (PA)
Pfeiffer University (NC)
Regis College (MA)
Rust College (MS)
Saint Xavier University (IL)
Shenandoah University (VA)
Spelman College (GA)
St. John Fisher College (NY)
The College of Saint Rose (NY)
Universidad del Sagrado Corazón (PR)
University of Saint Francis (IN)
Virginia Wesleyan University
Wheeling University (WV)
Whitman College (WA)
Wofford College (SC)