Making Service Meaningful: The History of Civic Engagement at IUPUI


Establishing the Commitment

IUPUI has emphasized civic engagement and service for the Indianapolis community, with particular attention toward educationally meaningful service, for decades. Documentation of this campuswide value dates back to the 1980s. Campus development plans from 1988 identified IUPUI’s unique position as the only public college or university in the state’s urban center and capital, and the plans explained the focus of service in IUPUI’s mission.

Today, the Center for Service and Learning (CSL) serves as the main link between IUPUI community members and service-related opportunities. The university’s strong commitment to civic engagement is evidenced across the campus and includes supporting faculty in scholarly work related to civic engagement, promoting educational practices that prepare graduates for facing issues in their communities, developing programs that emphasize civic engagement, and assessing the effects of these efforts on student learning and engagement. 

It isn’t about just serving to learn or doing to learn. . . . It’s also about learning to serve and enhancing the civic development and social understanding of college students.

—Dr. Robert Bringle

Coinciding with the Sam H. Jones scholarship program, the Office of Service Learning began a partnership with the United Way Foundation to host the first annual United Way Day of Caring in 1994. This was the first campuswide service event at IUPUI. Day of Caring has since expanded, engaging around 350 IUPUI community members annually at volunteer sites around the city. In the 2000s, large-scale service events expanded to include the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service and César Chávez Day of Service, which occur every January and March respectively. In more recent years, SECRET Service Day was added to provide an opportunity specifically for first-year students to get engaged and to connect them with other students who are passionate about voluntary service.


46Community Partners

6,462Hours of Service

Current Approaches to Civic Engagement

Research on developing service learning programs conducted on campus has been recognized nationally and has culminated in a four-part book series and ScholarWorks database. Following CSL’s expansion of service programs and research, U.S. News & World Report recognized IUPUI for its excellence in service learning programs in 2002. Each year since then, IUPUI has continued to be recognized in the publication’s America’s Best Colleges edition.


Our emphasis on research has always set us apart from other people doing this work and has been a key contribution to the field.

—Dr. Julie Hatcher

Civic Engagement Moving Forward

IUPUI’s commitment to community involvement has continued into recent years. In 2014, Chancellor Nasser H. Paydar led a strategic planning initiative for the campus, which included a goal for “deepening campus commitment to community engagement.” The Office of Community Engagement, designed to develop a strategic approach to community engagement, was also established four years ago.

The long-standing commitment IUPUI has shown toward civic engagement makes the future of related programs promising. As CSL celebrates its 25th anniversary, those involved with service learning and civic engagement at IUPUI envision further integration of service and civic-mindedness into the average student’s college experience.

“What I hope to see is integrated pathways for students to have experiences that increase a student’s sense of agency around particular issues,” states Dr. Hatcher. She explains, “I would love it if students came away [from the university] with a coherent pathway on exploring that issue. They then know how to take action and make change as it relates to their career.”

For more information, contact the Division of Undergraduate Education Office of Communications at