Office of Engagement Initiatives and Civil Service Center to Form New Community Engagement Center

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After more than five years of working side by side at Kennedy Hall, the Office of Engagement Initiatives and the Civil Service Center will merge into one center.

From July 1, the study-oriented OEI and the PSC, which offers extracurricular service opportunities, will join forces – an initiative taken by the University to streamline opportunities for students and members. from the community. The new center will combine programs offering academic credit for public service work with service work outside the classroom, including through student organizations.

“You should be able to come and say, ‘Hey, I want to get involved in doing something for the good of the community. What options do you have? ‘ », Declared Krista Saleet, director of the current PSC and future deputy director of the new center.

Saleet said she hoped the integration would reduce duplication of effort, making it easier to allocate resources and work directly with community partners.

The PSC is approaching its 30th anniversary and is currently working with around 300 organizations, according to Saleet. The OEI is more recent, founded about six years ago. It has around 500 partners through its programs that fund student and faculty projects, but some overlap with the PSC, according to Basil Safi, director of OEI and future director of the new center.

“If you treat this as two different approaches, you are actually missing out on this very beautiful legacy of the Public Service Center,” Safi said. “They’ve been doing this a lot longer than us. “

According to Ryan Lombardi, vice president of student and campus life and co-supervisor of the new center, the change reflects models of community engagement at some of Cornell’s peer institutions. He said there were no plans to cut staff during the Cornell merger.

Lombardi told The Sun he witnessed a similar program of integration and “engagement” from a community service center while working at Duke University in the early 2000s.

The change also reflects student demand, according to Professor Katherine McComas Ph.D. ’00, communications, vice provost for engagement and land grants and co-supervisor of the new center.

In 2020, 54% of Cornell undergraduates admit that opportunities for public engagement are “very important” in their college’s decision-making, according to data shared by McComas.

McComas said she hoped the integrated center would bridge the gap between the classroom and the wider world, including through local nonprofits. As a communications teacher at Cornell, she has experience teaching community learning courses. A class she taught aimed to raise awareness about hydrilla, a local invasive plant species.

“I had students and took them to the floating classroom on Cayuga Lake,” McComas said. “They write to me and tell me it was a class they remember more than anything else.”

In the 2020 academic year, Cornell donated 268 community learning course via OEI, according to Safi. In the class of 2021, 47% of undergraduates have taken at least one committed learning course.

Outside of academics, the PSC runs programs such as Pre-Orientation Service Trips and Upward Bound to support local high school students. The center currently includes around 25 student-led service organizations, according to Saleet.

Patrick Mehler ’23, president of Cornell Votes, a PSC student organization that encourages voter participation on campus, said he wanted the new center to continue to support student organizations like his while continuing to serve their purpose. give some autonomy.

“The aim of the PSC and OEI is to help the community, but it is also to develop the students and to ensure that the students mature and become civically engaged and become citizens in their communities”, Mehler said. “This can only happen if you give them leadership and give them control over the management of programs and projects and the management of organizations. “

Saleet, who heads the PSC, said there had been no detailed budget decisions on funding student organizations, but said she wanted to better coordinate the work of the new organizations to avoid overlap with groups. which are already part of the center.

Cornell will name the new center in honor of David Einhorn ’91, whose Einhorn Collaborative Foundation partially equips the new center – but the nomination will not take place until the 2021-2022 academic year.

Although the new center will launch on July 1, the merger will be phased in, and Lombardi said students or faculty are not expected to undergo major changes immediately.

“The message we have given to the team is, ‘Keep doing what you are doing,'” said Lombardi.

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