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Kennesaw State community engagement

Kennesaw State deepens its commitment to community engagement Community engagement is alive and…

Georgia (Jun 18, 2015)

Kennesaw State deepens its commitment to community engagement

Community engagement is alive and well at Kennesaw State. Whether it involves student internships, serving on advisory boards, offering expertise to nonprofits or corporations, or helping charitable organizations, the collaborative exchange of knowledge and resources is a cornerstone of the university’s mission.

The benefits to both the university and the community at large are about more than volunteerism, outreach or community service.

“It’s a symbiotic relationship,” explained Brian Wooten, director of the Office of Community Engagement at Kennesaw State. “It’s about moving society forward.”

Community engagement – an institutional priority at Kennesaw State – encompasses the ideals of partnership and reciprocity in ongoing mutually beneficial relationships.

That attention to building relationships earned Kennesaw State the prestigious Community Engagement Classification from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching this year.

“Every time we touch an organization outside of the campus walls, that is engagement,” said Ken Harmon, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs at Kennesaw State. “Besides granting academic degrees to students, it is our obligation to offer expanded learning opportunities. Students get some of their bigger learning through hands-on activities and by giving back to organizations. It’s the notion that we reach out to the community and ease access to the university.”


Kennesaw State has a long history of involvement with the community, beginning with Marietta and Cobb County officials pushing the 1963 bond referendum to ensure that the university’s campus landed in Cobb County.

“The community wanted to be involved with the university from the beginning,” said Wooten. “The community rallied around us then, and they still see that we are a great resource.”

One of the first community engagement activities on a large scale was Volunteer Kennesaw for Students. Vice President for Student Success Jerome Ratchford and Student Success Services were responsible for creating the volunteer mechanism for students to provide service to the community. Today, Volunteer KSU actively recruits, trains and provides transportation for students, faculty and staff who volunteer at some 300 local service organizations and agencies.

Service learning, a term coined by academic institutions and designed to teach course elements through the exercise of service, began to take hold on the KSU campus in the late 1980s. Many faculty embraced the opportunities to integrate service into the classroom.

One example is business management professor Nancy Prochaska, who took her class into the community so they could learn to “grapple with real problems nose to nose.”

“Service learning is important for students to learn who they are, what they can learn from the experience and how service is important in their everyday lives,” Prochaska said. She has found numerous projects over the years to teach business management fundamentals.

Examples of service learning projects have spanned the scope of the university’s academics: biology students who have tested runoff waters from local lakes; business majors who have designed inventory systems for charitable organizations or wrote employee handbooks for small businesses; and nursing and social work students who have conducted health screenings at low-income housing sites.

“Service learning is more than volunteerism and putting in time. It’s goal-oriented,” said Prochaska. “Learning is more than equations and heavy-duty research. It’s taking a topic and figuring out the key principles using the exercise of engagement with our communities.”


As service learning and volunteer opportunities became more widespread across campus, Kennesaw State President Daniel S. Papp launched “Engage KSU” in 2010, which provided a unified approach to community engagement.

Jorge Perez, then faculty executive assistant to the president, led the initiative, which provided the infrastructure for faculty, staff and students to create new community engagement opportunities. The Engage KSU model comprised five teams in teaching, scholarship, service, structures and resources, and partnerships and networks, with broad representation across the campus, to establish goals and standards.

“This initiative brought community engagement into its clearest focus,” said Perez. “As an economic engine, we needed to partner with the community to take KSU where it needed to go.”

When budgets tightened during the economic downturn several years ago, the idea of community engagement took on greater meaning for Kennesaw State and the local area. The Engage KSU committee began to collect a list of the activities between the campus and the community, explained Perez.

“Stronger, more coordinated efforts were needed to maximize the benefit to the community and the campus,” Perez added. According to KSU officials, community engagement manifested in every college, division and department on the campus.

In 2013, Maureen McCarthy, who filled the faculty executive assistant role when Perez left his three-year term, hired Wooten to create the Office of Community Engagement and build a central repository of the university’s community engagement activities.

The office soon became a centralized voice and folded all of the institution’s community engagement activities under one umbrella. With two campuses, 75 centers and more than 200 student organizations, Wooten explained that his office serves as the “bridge to the community.”

“We are not creating projects, but rather relationships that create effective partnerships and lead the KSU community to being more involved with our local communities,” said Wooten. “It’s how the university grows.”

Examples of such relationships include the one the Department of Dance created with Atlanta Ballet and the Cobb Energy Center, in which professional dancers provide on-campus workshops and students have a place to perform in the community; or the one that the Sports and Recreation department has with MUST Ministries, where students teach the charitable organization’s clients how to repair their bikes for job transportation.

“Reciprocity is clear,” said Perez. “Students who engage in these opportunities get experience, and the businesses and organizations benefit in many ways.”


With the university’s institutional commitment to community engagement intact, KSU officials were eager to apply for the Community Engagement Classification from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, a highly sought-after designation among higher education institutions.

Kennesaw State earned the prestigious Community Engagement Classification in January 2015, ranking the University among the top 10 percent of universities nationally that have earned this recognition for ongoing collaborative efforts with their communities. The designation for KSU is valid through 2025.

Carnegie Foundation officials noted that Kennesaw State demonstrated “excellent alignment among campus mission, culture, leadership, resources and practices that support dynamic and noteworthy community engagement.”

In fact, Kennesaw State opened its doors to the public for more than 3,000 events and more than 120,000 community members toured KSU museums or visited the Rare Book Room during 2012-2013. Nearly a dozen institutional and academic college-level honors and awards programs at KSU recognize students, faculty, staff and community partners who volunteer and excel in serving local and international communities.

As part of the voluntary application process, the Office of Community Engagement provided the documentation of the institution’s engagement practices. Kennesaw State is now one of 361 institutions nationwide – and one of only 10 in Georgia – that holds the Community Engagement Classification.

“This designation from the Carnegie Foundation supports that we are moving in the right direction,” Wooten said. “It shows where we are strong and how unique community engagement is at KSU, but it also indicates our challenge areas and how to move community engagement forward.”


In 2025, the university will complete a reclassification application and demonstrate how the university has expanded, deepened and integrated community engagement work. Wooten and KSU officials agree that the Carnegie classification isn’t merely a checkbox, but designed to push the process further at Kennesaw State.

“The Carnegie classification isn’t the end; it’s the means to the end,” Wooten said. “Community engagement is about relevancy and making a difference.”

Wooten’s hope for the future is the full incorporation of community engagement as a cultural phenomenon on the campus.

Perez also agreed that it should be natural for the campus constituents to reach out to the community for resources that make learning more impactful, particularly experiences that are academic or altruistic in nature.

A key activity for Kennesaw State and the Office of Community Engagement will be to go out into area neighborhoods and learn what members of the community need.

“As we move forward, the idea is to connect at all levels in many different ways, whether it be course credit for students or helping metro Atlanta attract a company to the region,” Harmon explained. “We are very intentional on the types of community engagement we foresee for the future, but this will be very organic in nature.”

-- Tiffany Capuano


photo: Anthony Stalcup


A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit