A Founder's Perspective: Civic Engagement and CSL


In 2015, IUPUI contributed 365,206 service hours to the Indianapolis community through a wide range of campus-sponsored events, including volunteering, service-based scholarships, and service learning courses. Across the years, IUPUI’s civic involvement has not lagged; in fact, it has only grown with IUPUI solidifying its status among institutions of higher learning by its intensive focus on service learning courses and civic engagement. This focus is supported by the Center for Service and Learning (CSL), a unit on campus that works to promote meaningful interaction between the Indianapolis community and IUPUI’s students, faculty, and staff. The many functions of the center might not be clear at first glance, so a dive into the world of civic engagement will yield a stronger understanding of not only CSL’s role on campus, but also IUPUI’s role within central Indiana.

In honor of CSL's 25th anniversary, Dr. Julie Hatcher, director and co-founder of CSL, provided her perspective on IUPUI's relationship with civic engagement and service learning. In addition to directing the center, Dr. Hatcher is associate professor of philanthropic studies in the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. She serves as the co-editor of the IUPUI Book Series on Service Learning Research, and she collaborates on both local and international research projects integrating service learning into higher education.

Dr. Julie Hatcher

IUPUI’s Role in Student Civic Engagement

Located in the heart of downtown Indianapolis, IUPUI has a unique opportunity as a metropolitan university in terms of community engagement. While other universities may be more loosely tied to nearby cities, Dr. Hatcher sees the relationship of IUPUI and the community as one of symbiosis:

“IUPUI is a state-funded school, and it’s location is in close proximity to government, museums, schools, nearby community settings . . . so the community becomes this additional classroom that helps to deepen and enrich learning of students across all disciplines and majors. . . . I think we have a public responsibility as a state-funded school to continually be more engaged in and with the community.”

CSL’s research, in part, examines this aspect of partnerships between the campus and community. Dr. Hatcher is familiar with the ways in which this relationship can manifest to support student learning. She explains, “I think the boundaries between the campus and the community here are physically more permeable that at other campuses; it’s easier to ebb and flow both from campus into community, and that also sort of facilitates community engagement from a student learning perspective.”

IUPUI is so closely integrated with the culture of Indianapolis that the two cannot be separated, and just as the city contributes to the campus, likewise the campus should be giving back.

I think we have a public responsibility as a state-funded school to be more engaged in and with the community.

Dr. Julie Hatcher

“We had the opportunity to be partnered with the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, South Africa, and we hosted a team of faculty here, and then we went to South Africa and had faculty development workshops. . . . this was the brick that was made at that point, and the person who was a faculty member in South Africa worked with community partners to come up with a new system of brick making in order to have community members involved with creating the bricks. As an engineering faculty, his research focused on 'how long do these bricks last, how can we make them more sustainable?' And it was one of these great examples of the purpose of community-engaged work, because we need to always be attentive to, 'what are the bricks being developed, do we have outputs that are actually valued by the community, and are the community members closely aligned with creating these bricks and these products?'"

Three pieces of brick sit in front of some indoor potted plants.
Building at University of the Free State

Left: Dr. Hatcher's brick pieces. Right: One of the historic buildings at the University of the Free State. Photo source: myproperty.co.za.

Moving Forward

CSL has made great strides in working with faculty, staff, and students from all schools at IUPUI, but there’s always more work that can be done and more steps that can be taken. Even though Dr. Hatcher’s upcoming retirement will result in a leadership change, she believes that “because enough people care and enough people have walked the road of civic engagement, I’m quite confident that there will be other people who will be able to lead this effort, moving the campus and the community forward in new ways.” The Center for Service and Learning will continue to promote student and faculty engagement, develop community-engaged learning experiences, and continue exploring ways in which involvement between IUPUI and Indianapolis can be deepened and sustained through mutually beneficial partnerships.

More information about how to become involved with the Center for Service and Learning can be found at https://csl.iupui.edu/index.html.

For more information, contact the Division of Undergraduate Education Office of Communications at duecomm@iupui.edu.