The aim of the undergraduate experience is not only to prepare the young for productive careers, but also to enable them to live lives of dignity and purpose; not only to generate new knowledge, but to channel that knowledge to humane ends; not merely to study government but to help shape a citizenry that can promote the public good. (Ernest Boyer 1987, 29)

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Nearly twenty-five years ago Ernest Boyer reminded us of the complex mission of higher education in a diverse democracy and interdependent world, and today evidence exists that a campus commitment to civic endeavors is needed more than ever (Musil, 2011). Business and government leaders urge institutions to produce learners who are not prepared for narrow workforce specialties but graduates who are competent thinkers in the liberal arts including ethics, global knowledge, intercultural literacy, and strong communication and collaborative skills (National Leadership Council for Liberal Education and America's Promise, 2007).

A grant from Bringing Theory to Practice project, made possible by the Engelhard Foundation, stimulated the creation of a Civic Engagement Certificate, which enables students to tie theory to practice, connecting what they learn in their ACE general education program with key experiences outside the classroom. Underlying this project is the assumption that students (and their communities) will flourish if they engage in learning that is situated in a civic context.

The certificate is the product of faculty, staff and students in the University community with input from community partners, and has the endorsement from each of the eight undergraduate colleges. The certificate has been approved by the University's Academic Planning Committee and the Board of Regents and the Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education. The first class of students seeking the certificate will begin their work during the spring semester 2012.

How will Nebraska's Civic Engagement Certificate benefit students?

By participating in the Civic Engagement Certificate, students will develop their ability to change the world, and in the words of one student, "See the world as something more than just yourself."

  • Students develop skills in 6 areas of civic engagement: civic identity & commitment, leadership, diversity of communities & culture, civic communication, analysis of knowledge, action.
  • Students gain an edge in the job market and among when they compete for admission to grad school. Employers want to want to hire people who think and can act with civic interests at heart. Students who engage in civic activities often make themselves more competitive for prestigious fellowships and graduate education.
  • Students can complete the certificate without adding time to graduation. The certificate asks students to complete four courses, drawn from their ACE requirements for general education and complement that experience with learning outside the classroom.
  • Completion of a Civic Engagement Certificate requires that students participate in an orientation session, three checkpoints and a final reflection session. UNL students can complete this without any additional cost of tuition or adding any time to graduation.
  • The process is spread over a minimum of two years, enabling students to develop skills and a plan of action over time. It is designed to include students who transfer to UNL and student who decide later in their academic career that they want to become more active citizens.
  • Students from any major can participate. The certificate is flexible and can accommodate their particular interests.