UNF receives prestigious Carnegie classification

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Buca Forrester, a junior studying elementary education at UNF, spends his Monday evenings at a local elementary school with about 10 of his new best friends — at least the ones under 4 feet tall.

 

The Jacksonville Beach resident never thought he would spend serious time with a group of kindergartners, their parents and siblings and enjoy it so much. And while he is officially one of the teachers in the classroom, he said he has learned more from the kindergartners and their families than he has taught them.

 

“I can read about all of this in a book,” Forrester said. “And I can practice on campus with my classmates and I can role-play with my professors, but I cannot get the hands-on knowledge anywhere else but in a real classroom with real people and real-life situations. Every week, I learn more from both the kids and their families. I cannot learn that from a book.”

 

Dr. Katrina Hall, a professor in the Department of Childhood Education, agrees. “Our UNF students have to really be able to work with real students in a real setting with real goals,” she said.

 

And to that end, Hall and her colleagues, Drs. Gigi David and Lunetta Williams, developed a program to benefit students in the College of Education and Human Services and kindergarten students at a Jacksonville elementary school. Their idea, which is now a community-based Transformational Learning Opportunity (TLO), teams UNF students in an integrated arts class with 15 kindergartners and their parents at Woodland Acres Elementary School, a UNF urban development school. The UNF students learn how to collaborate and become better teachers and the kindergartners and their parents or caregivers are taught how to “share high-quality books and age-appropriate arts-based activities to build children’s basic concept knowledge and literacy skills,” said David. “The siblings have an opportunity to develop oral language skills in the context of sharing books, games and activities. The UNF students prepare take-home activity bags to enhance the home learning environment of the participating families and they contact the families between workshop sessions to provide the students additional authentic opportunities to interact with the caregivers.”

 

“The UNF students spend two weeks with each group: the parents, the kindergartners and the siblings,” Hall said. “They develop the ability to work together as a teaching team. Since it is Dr. David's integrated arts class that the UNF students are enrolled in, they use books, art prints and arts-based activities designed to develop academic skills to help the kindergartners and to equip their parents to support school learning in an engaging manner. And while they can read about things like this in a textbook and think it is going to be super, until you are there doing it, you don’t really appreciate it.”

 

One of the hallmarks of a UNF education is that students graduate with degrees that carry with them the current academic thinking, best practices in any given discipline and the practical, hands-on experience that potential employers want. One way UNF students get all that is through community-based programs such as the one Hall described.

 

What has long been the mission of the University is now being recognized formally. UNF has received the prestigious 2010 Community Engagement Classification from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in recognition of the University’s exceptional commitment to community engagement. 

 

The classification is given to institutions that demonstrate a mission, culture, leadership, resources and practices that support “dynamic and noteworthy community engagement” as well as programs to promote civic engagement. 

 

UNF is among 115 institutions in the country to be added to the classification this year. Only about 10 percent of colleges and universities have earned the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification since it began in 2006.

 

“This special designation shows that the University of North Florida is helping students become good citizens who care for their community,” said UNF Provost Dr. Mark Workman. “The University is clearly making strides in finding ways for its students to become engaged and to make a difference through their education by contributing to Northeast Florida.”  

 

Said Dr. Mark Falbo, the director of the Center for Community-Based Learning, “The designation matters in times like this. When we are faced with an economic scarcity, people look for what might be valued-added to a public education. The public expects competency, but they also want to see the kinds of graduates we are putting out who are responsive to the public good and who are good citizens making a difference in their community and with their degrees.”

 

Colleges and universities with an institutional focus on community engagement were invited to apply for the classification, first offered in 2006 as part of an extensive restructuring of the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. Unlike the foundation’s other classifications that rely on national data, this is an “elective” classification — institutions elect to participate by submitting required documentation describing the nature and extent of their engagement with the community, be it local or beyond. 

 

“Through a classification that acknowledges significant commitment to and demonstration of community engagement, the foundation encourages colleges and universities to become more deeply engaged, to improve teaching and learning and to generate socially responsive knowledge to benefit communities,” said Carnegie President Anthony Bryk. “We are very pleased with the movement we are seeing in this direction.” 

 

Workman believes the community engagement classification underscores the very basis of an education at this institution. “It confirms our commitment not only to graduating students with academic competencies, but also with an awareness of civic responsibility,” he said. “And since 70 percent of UNF graduates remain in the region after they finish a degree, they contribute significantly to the advancement of our region not only economically but also as a community. Our community is dependent upon the infusion of these talented and publically minded citizens.”

 

“For the past two decades, we have been working in academia to reclaim the University as a public good,” Falbo said. “It is not enough in this economy just to say we are educating people competent in their discipline. We can no longer settle for 19th- and 20th-century levels of education. We need to produce graduates who know what it means to be critical thinkers; who know what it means to build a better society; who think for themselves and others.”

 

Workman said he believes that this particular Carnegie designation confirms and celebrates the longstanding and mutually beneficial relationship between the University and the region. “If you were to take UNF out of Jacksonville, UNF would be a profoundly different University and Jacksonville would be a profoundly different city – to the detriment of both.”

 

The foundation, through the work of the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education, developed the first typology of American colleges and universities in 1970 as a research tool to describe and represent the diversity of U.S. higher education. The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education continues to be used for a wide range of purposes by academic researchers, institutional personnel, policymakers and others. 

 

At UNF, evidence of community engagement can be seen in nearly every discipline in every college. And the official classification is now giving UNF national recognition for those efforts.

 

“UNF is all about getting the hands-on experience that complements what we learn in the classroom,” Forrester said. “I know when I graduate, my degree will be much more credible because of UNF’s reputation for community-engaged learning. I know I will be a much better teacher for it, as well.”