Camp Shriver, offered for kids with and without developmental disabilities, is an example of the type of university civic engagement that the "Future of Engagement" project addresses.
As director of the New England Resource Center for Higher Education (NERCHE), Saltmarsh has observed that civic engagement—a core value of education in democratic societies—has lost momentum at colleges and universities. This is especially of concern because the nation’s wealth, in the broadest sense, can be perceived as directly related to the interest and involvement of its college students in civic affairs.
To regain a sense of priority for democratic citizenship, the project held a February ’08 colloquium hosted by the Kettering Foundation in its Dayton, Ohio, offices. A diverse group of 33 academic and community leaders discussed ways to invigorate democratic citizenship among faculty and students and to cultivate the next generation of engaged scholars in American higher education. A summary of the discussions, and a “virtual blog” from nationwide contributors, is included in a web site (www.futureofengagement.wordpress.com); and publishing a book, titled Democratic Civic Engagement: The Public Purpose of Higher Education, is planned.
The initiative is also supported by the Bernard and Audre Rapoport Foundation (Waco, Texas) and the Spencer Foundation (Chicago). Saltmarsh framed questions for the colloquium by writing, in an introductory paper, “Why has the civic engagement movement in higher education stalled, and what strategies and priorities are needed to further advance institutional transformation?” He believes that UMass Boston is well suited to explore such critical questions. “It matters enormously to me that UMass Boston is mission-driven. There’s no place I’d rather be,” he says.
The UMass Boston mission will gain some national visibility through the project. Kettering foundation officer Derek Barker commented on reasons for supporting it when he said, “We wanted to learn more about the challenges in higher education civic engagement. John Saltmarsh and NERCHE helped us convene a diverse, distinguished, and thoughtful group that identified key priorities in building citizens’ civic capacities and strengthening democracy as a whole.”