The nuts and bolts of Civic Action Planning: Grand Valley State University’s Story

February 24, 2017

This blog post was contributed by the Core Planning Team at Grand Valley State University (GVSU)

In order to most fully deepen the GVSU commitment to civic engagement and the public purpose of higher education, it has been important to frame our Civic Action Plan as an opportunity to highlight, elevate, and further develop the good work that many in our institution are already doing in the field of civic engagement. We have been intentional about telling our story in a way that affirms the previous work of many stakeholders from across the university that has laid the foundation for a successful Civic Action Plan and implementation of that plan. We seek to affirm that history and to bring a broad representation of campus and community partners into the planning process and implementation, in order to continue to develop a civic ethos at GVSU.

GVSU enjoys a rich history of engaging the community through community-based learning in the curriculum and co-curricular activities. This tradition is built on years of work from GVSU faculty and staff, and informs GVSU’s new Strategic Plan for 2016-21, which incorporates a number of goals and objectives related to civic engagement and community based learning. In 2016, President Haas signed the Campus Compact 30th Anniversary Action Statement of Presidents and Chancellors, committing GVSU to creating a Campus Civic Action Plan due in March 2017.

In August 2016, a core team was formed to lead the Civic Action Planning effort. Upon completing a civic engagement gap analysis for GVSU, the core team identified common elements from GVSU’s strategic plan outcomes and objectives, Campus Compact Action Plan requirements, and Carnegie Community Engagement Classification criteria. We gauged GVSU’s level of attainment for each item, identified low-effort/low-cost changes and those requiring resources and longer-term efforts, and provided insights regarding pursuing Carnegie Classification.

To jumpstart our Civic Action Planning process, GVSU participated in Campus Compact’s Civic Action Planning Institute at the University of Missouri, St. Louis. During the Institute, we explored issues of building partnerships that challenge inequality, cultivating student democratic capacity, and assessing community impact. Attending the institute also provided the GVSU team the opportunity to network with participants from 22 of the 450 institutions who had signed the Campus Compact 30th Anniversary Action Statement.

During brainstorming sessions at the institute, GVSU’s team developed a framework and process for their Civic Action Plan. We decided on a framework for the GVSU Civic Action Plan built around the five commitments of the  Action Statement, which support several objectives in GVSU’s strategic plan. GVSU then decided to organize planning committees whose work would each focus on a specific commitment. Explore GVSU’s Civic Action Planning Committees below:

The “Core” Team is responsible for the overarching commitment related to fostering an environment that consistently affirms the centrality of the public purposes of higher education. Focus areas and outcomes for this work will include improving communication and coordination related to community engagement work at GVSU, and developing a systematic approach for documenting, reporting, and assessing the impact of civic engagement activities and community partnerships.

The “Sustainable Partners” team focuses on the commitment empowering students, faculty, staff, and community members to co-create mutually respectful and sustainable partnerships. Focus areas and outcomes will be in faculty and staff development to prepare them for various aspects of community engagement work and guiding students in this work, developing faculty rewards and recognition for community engagement efforts, and creating reciprocity for sustaining partnerships. The team has representation from six colleges across GVSU: the Pew Faculty Teaching and Learning Center, the Center for Scholarly and Creative Excellence, Inclusion and Equity, University Development, and the Office of the Provost.

The “Student Civic Engagement” team focuses on the commitment preparing students for lives of engaged citizenship, through initiatives on civic literacy and student readiness for civic engagement. The Student Civic Engagement Team is comprised of a broad representation from across the GVSU campus community, along with several key community partners. Members of the team come from the following units on campus: Housing & Residence Life, The Office of Integrative Learning, School of Social Work, School of Communications, University Libraries, Division of Inclusion & Equity, Student Senate, Department of Art & Design, and The Rapidian, a community run media outlet. The Student Engagement Team is divided in to two sub-teams focused on civic literacy and student readiness for civic engagement, respectively. Those who are involved in the planning process will also be directly involved in implementing the Civic Action Plan. The work of these teams is based on input and feedback we have received previously from campus and community partners, and on national trends in the field of civic engagement.

The “Place-Based Institution” team is addressing the commitment to embrace our responsibilities as a place-based institution contributing to the health and strength of our communities. The team has selected the Westside, the neighborhood of our downtown Grand Rapids campus, for piloting our role as an anchor institution. Twenty-four people are participating in the planning over a two-month period, half of whom are from the community. Representatives from Grand Rapids Public Schools, the police department, two neighborhood organizations, small and large businesses, the community foundation, and various nonprofits have joined us to develop a plan that focuses on K12 education, safety, health, and economic development. Planning participants will also play a key role in implementing action steps alongside GVSU faculty and staff.

The “Social and Economic Equity” team focuses on the commitment harnessing the capacity of our institutions to challenge the prevailing social and economic inequalities. The team has chosen to work on education for faculty on topics such as implicit bias, community-based learning, and intergroup dialog. Additional focus areas for this team include social justice education and outreach through co-curricular connections, pathways efforts to create a college going culture, and economic justice initiatives.

Realizing a need for a variety of voices in the Civic Action Plan, GVSU’s team will send out a draft of the Civic Action Plan for feedback from the members of the Collective and other key stakeholders within and outside the university. After sharing it with the President and Provost for comment, the final plan will be submitted to Campus Compact by March 20, 2017 and presented by the President and Provost at GVSU’s Community Engagement Partnership Showcase event in April 2017.

The process of putting together a Civic Action Plan has been energizing. It has helped us celebrate our progress and identify areas where we can enhance our efforts. The process has not been without its challenges. It has taken considerable logistical organization to pull stakeholders together and schedule meetings on a short timeline. It has been challenging to balance the desire to be aspirational in our planning without a clear sense of resources that will be available for this work. At this juncture, the need for a coordinating infrastructure to manage communication, data collection, and assessment has become a very clear opportunity for GVSU.

Through the Civic Action Plan, we join with President Haas and other Presidents and Chancellors across the country to affirm the public purpose of higher education. We seek to elevate this purpose – to educate students to become informed, empathetic, and active citizens who uphold their civic responsibilities in our democracy, and to maximize the impact of engagement for our students, our communities, and our shared world.

Core Planning team at Grand Valley State University:

Melissa Baker-Boosamra

Associate Director of Student Life, Civic Engagement & Assessment, Community Service Learning Center

Suzeanne Benet

Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs, Office of the Provost


Marlene Kowalski-Braun

Associate Vice Provost for Student Affairs and Assistant Vice President for Inclusion and Equity



Shaily Menon

Associate Dean, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, with Special Projects Assignment in the Office of the Provost

Ruth Stegeman

Assistant Dean, College of Community and Public Service, and Director for Community Engagement

Patricia Stow Bolea

Faculty Fellow, Pew Faculty Teaching and Learning Center

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