CCLA Clarifies Purpose

Nadia Shahab Diaz ’21, Staff Writer

Since the split of the Center for Service, Spirituality and Social Justice (CS3) into separate offices, the Center for Civic Learning & Action (CCLA), as recounted by Gary Kirk, associate provost & executive director of the CCLA, will work on faculty support and development for community-engaged scholarship and pedagogy, community capacity-building programs and academic course support, along with the service and engagement programs previously associated with CS3. 

Kirk said that “the creation of the center happened after several years of self-study and planning by faculty, staff, students, and community partners, and the launch of CCLA this year was made possible, in part, by a new grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.” He continued, explaining that the funding that had previously supported CS3 “has been split with some funding for student wages and some restricted funds coming to CCLA. Since CCLA now administers CommServ and Service Trips, Student Senate’s support of these programs will now run through CCLA instead of CS3. The remainder of the CCLA budget comes from grant funds, support from Academic Affairs, student wage funding from community Federal Work Study placements” and student leaders doing additional fundraising to support programs.

Kirk’s responsibilities as executive director includes helping evaluate civic engagement “as a pillar of the Dickinson experience and to ensure that the college is a valued and contributing institutional member of the communities in which we learn and work.” He continued, explaining that his work includes “formalizing the vision and mission of CCLA, advocating for resources to allow our programs to thrive, and building strong and mutually beneficial relationships with community partners, faculty, staff, students, and alumni,” he said. 

Many familiar programs, such as the Service Trips and Montgomery Service Leaders, will remain virtually unchanged, while Kirk provided examples of other programs that are being modified to align with the center’s broader focus on civic learning. For example, “the Justice is Service program has been retooled to provide opportunities to learn about issues that communities face locally and globally. There will also be a few new programs, like the Small Change, Better World grant program launching this fall and a deliberative democracy program” expected to pilot in the spring, according to Kirk. 

In response to an observation that this year’s winter break service trip location was announced later in the year than usual, Kirk explained that, although it is ideal to announce all of the trips earlier in the academic year, the highest priority “is working with our community partners to ensure that they are interested in hosting and have the capacity to support a safe educational experience for Dickinson students. Our priority is on building sustainable relationships with these community partners,” and so it will not be compromised by announcing an opportunity before being certain that it will be a good experience for both the partner and student participants. In regard to this year’s winter break service trip location, CCLA is very excited about their new partnerships in Nashville, which includes work with Project C.U.R.E, a nonprofit that focuses on delivery of medical supplies to underserved communities, according to Kirk. 

When asked about any difficulties since the split from CS3, Kirk admitted that CCLA has faced challenges raising funds for service trips. He explained that the trips have substantial costs due to travel expenses, and CCLA wants to keep the fees as low as possible so that any interested student has the chance to attend; despite several major campus fundraisers planned by student leaders, such as the Color Rush on Nov. 9, Kirk believed that support from the broad Dickinson family is needed to make service trips sustainable. However, on a positive note, Kirk mentioned that the funds from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant will be used “to invest in community engagement work by faculty and students… These investments in civic life at Dickinson will create new opportunities for hands-on, active learning for Dickinson students, and those experiences will prepare our graduates to be global civic leaders now and in the future.”

Angelica Mishra, Civic Learning Coordinator for CCLA, found it interesting to see both sides of the split once CCLA was created. “The split allows for CSSJ to focus more on religious life, while both CSSJ and CCLA offer programs from a social justice lens. CCLA’s presence on campus makes it easier for students to know where to go if they are looking for volunteer opportunities, and it allows for a central location for community partners, faculty, staff, and students to communicate about civic engagement,” she explained. 

Overall, Kirk explained that he thinks these changes make Dickinson a national leader in civic engagement among liberal arts colleges, and that the center’s existing programs and upcoming ones are designed to prepare Dickinson graduates as global civic leaders. 


CCLA will host a Meet & Treat on Tuesday, Oct. 29 from 12:00-1:00 p.m. on Britton Plaza for interested students.