Jan. 8, 2020

UCalgary selected for pilot project defining the future of community engagement in higher ed

Sixteen institutions collaborate to adapt revered Carnegie Community Engagement Classification to Canadian context
Beth Gignac, chief operating officer of the United Way, Calgary and Area speaks at Knowledge to Impact: Igniting Community Engagement in 2019.
Beth Gignac speaks at Knowledge to Impact: Igniting Community Engagement in 2019. Colleen De Neve

Community engagement is embedded in the very fabric of what it means to be a member of the University of Calgary community, from partnering with United Way, to leading ground-breaking research in maternal and child health, or providing animal care at the Calgary Stampede. 

Now, as one of 16 institutions chosen to participate in the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification Canadian Pilot project, we’re taking our community impact to the next level.

  • Photo above: Beth Gignac, chief operating officer of the United Way, Calgary and Area, speaks at Knowledge to Impact: Igniting Community Engagement in 2019. Photo by Colleen De Neve, for the University of Calgary

What is the Carnegie Project?

For more than a decade, the Carnegie Foundation’s Classification for Community Engagement has been renowned as the leading framework for assessment and recognition of community engagement efforts in U.S. higher education. The classification recognizes institutions with deep and pervasive partnerships with communities on local, national and international scales.

Though the framework has been successful, due to differences between U.S. and Canadian post-secondary, the foundation launched a Canadian pilot cohort early in 2019 to explore how the classification may be adjusted to better suit community engagement in a Canadian context.

Now, UCalgary is collaborating with 15 other institutions across Canada to lead the development of a Canadian framework, anticipated to begin accepting applications for the first time in April 2021. The project is led by a small steering committee consisting of Dr. Leslie Reid, vice-provost (teaching and learning); Dr. Penny Pexman, associate vice-president (research); Susan Mide Kiss, senior director of strategic initiatives in community engagement; and Erin Kaipainen, senior specialist of experiential learning, as well as an advisory group made up of more than 40 people from across the institution and the larger Calgary community.

“Participating in the Carnegie pilot presents a unique opportunity to focus on community engagement and learn alongside our campus and community partners in a way we’ve never done before,” says Dr. Dru Marshall, UCalgary’s provost and vice-president (academic).

Connecting Communities is a priority of our academic plan and through the pilot we’re identifying ways our institution can better meet the values of our strategic vision and enrich the lives of Calgarians.

"By developing a standardized tool like the Carnegie Classification, we can benchmark our progress and move the discipline of community engagement forward, while leaving space to share our story in a compelling way,” adds Marshall

Community engagement enriches teaching, learning, research

Meaningful community engagement involves a commitment to mutual benefit and reciprocity, with the end goal being to enrich scholarship, research and creative activity, all while addressing critical societal issues.  

“There are tremendous examples of community engagement happening in every pocket of the university led by students, faculty, researchers, leaders, staff and volunteers,” says Susan Mide Kiss, project lead of UCalgary’s Carnegie initiative.

“This is really an opportunity to deepen our relationships with the community, hear how we’re doing and learn from our university family and partners. Outside of a reflective self-study, authoring the Canadian framework will also allow us to address key themes within the Canadian context and differences from the U.S. including our focus on Indigenous engagement and our commitment to giving back to the Calgary community.”

“United Way of Calgary and Area is proud to be a partner of the university, and we are lucky to have the deep bond and holistic connections to the university through their research capacity, in natural alignments with faculties such as social work, in their employee giving, and endless other avenues," says Beth Gignac, chief operating officer of the United Way, Calgary and Area.

The University of Calgary is making a national difference in communities by partaking in this pilot, and we know our relationship will only continue to grow and deepen for the betterment of Calgary with this project. 

On Jan. 22 and 23, UCalgary will host a convening of all partners in the Canadian Pilot Cohort. While the cohort meets virtually on a monthly basis, this is only the second time the cohort will gather in person. The meetings are being facilitated in a parallel way, recognizing Indigenous ways of knowing, doing, connecting and being.

Visit the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification website for more information and updates about the pilot project.