Floral mural on side of builidng in Elmwood Village

Civic and Community Engagement Opportunities Still Abound during Pandemic

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The Civic and Community Engagement Office (CCE) has had a busy summer. Not only has it been helping virtually in the community during the coronavirus pandemic; the office is also gearing up for a busy schedule of virtual events this fall for students to take part in.

“Many of the initiatives and community partners we work with are seeing a huge demand for services,” said Laura Hill Rao, director of the CCE. “We have already seen tremendous support from the campus during COVID as a campus, but there are still so many more opportunities to respond.”

While many of the opportunities available for students will be virtual this upcoming semester, students can still get involved in many ways. The CCE supports Dr. Katherine Conway-Turner's signature event, Bengals Dare to Care Day, which has been reformatted as Bengals Dare to Care 2020. Instead of students heading into the community to tackle various projects in person, the initiative will feature a series of weekly events starting the week of October 26. Themes are centered on showing Buffalo State’s commitment to social responsibility, community building, and social justice, and faculty are encouraged to build this programming into their courses. 

Illustration of hands holding a globe

“We worked with Dr. Conway-Turner to develop a four-week series, and each week has a different theme centered on racial equity,” Rao said.

The following themes will be featured:

Along with community speakers, the theme weeks will also provide additional resources for engaging in the issues on a local level, and a list of ways individuals can act.

“There are a variety of opportunities for people to learn, to engage, and then to act on the different things and the different issues that come up,” Rao said.

Earlier in the summer, SUNY came out with guidance surrounding community-based learning experiences, Rao said. Basically, any student who’s involved in an internship, volunteer setting, service learning, or other community-based position should be doing remote projects. It’s CCE’s job to interpret the guidance and communicate it to faculty with students in community-based programs.

“For various reasons, a student may still be in the community,” she said. “Oftentimes that has to do with clinical experience in speech-language pathology or health and wellness, or it might be student teaching, so faculty need to understand and follow the guidance if students are still going to be involved in a community setting.”

Rao said they’ve been impressed with the ways faculty members have embraced remote projects in place of community-based experiences.

“It’s really hard to wrap your mind around the idea of our community engagement activities not being in the community,” she said. “But there are a lot of programs and projects that can be done remotely. Many of the community organizations have turned to remote programming and support, so they’re looking for continued student involvement to support their remote efforts, as well.”

One area that continues to see a need is remote academic support for youth and families, Rao said, especially with the unpredictability of the upcoming school year. Food pantries and job readiness programs are also in high demand, because of the high unemployment rate. These are also areas where students can help.

“We actually have not seen a decline in the number of service-learning courses for this coming year,” she said. “We’re seeing faculty adapt to the different opportunities and adjust their courses so that students can still have an applied learning experience that supports our community at a time when it’s needed.”

With Election Day coming up this fall, the CCE also has a strong focus on voter engagement, with a variety of opportunities to connect, as well as workshops on filling out the census. As with everything the CCE does, the goal is to act on Buffalo State’s position as an urban-engaged anchor institution.

“Our program is all about responding to community priorities,” Rao said. “As community need has increased, so has the need to have our students respond and get involved.”


Photo by Bruce Fox, Campus Photographer