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Intersections of Community Psychology Practice and Higher Education Community Engagement: An Essay of Core Competencies

Intersections of Community Psychology Practice and Higher Education Community Engagement: An Essay of Core Competencies by  Tabitha Underwood

Author(s): Tabitha Underwood


This reflective essay presents information concerning civic engagement related positions on campuses such as those within the realms of community service, service-learning, and community-based research and examines how these roles connect to the Society for Community Research and Action (SCRA) Community Psychology Practice Competencies. To illustrate these connections, I reflect on my experience in higher education civic engagement and compare the practice competencies to two new resources that outline competencies for civic engagement professionals. Higher education civic engagement is proposed as a feasible career path for community psychologists interested in practice, based on the connection between the two fields. 


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As I reflect on my career thus far, I often wonder how my path appeared as it did. I have been working in higher education community engagement for the last 13 years, yet never expected to work in academia. Throughout graduate school I had varying ideas of what it meant to be a community psychologist and where the field would take my career, which typically focused on community practice. I hadn’t realized there was an alternative to the trichotomy of research, academia, and practice; however, as a higher education civic engagement professional, I have managed to find a balance among these three roles. Over the years I have been fortunate to work coordinating community-based internships, service-learning, co-curricular community service, and leadership development programs based in social change. I played a part in community-based learning as a graduate assistant at a public university and as a staff member at a private college. For the last few years, I have served as a director of a statewide association dedicated to providing resources to campuses interested in furthering their civic engagement endeavors. I have worked directly with students and faculty and assisted with building institutions’ capacity for engagement. All of these roles have given me access to teaching, conducting research, and working directly with communities. This career path has allowed me to help students find their place in service to the community and help institutions in their role as responsible corporate citizens.

As stated in a community psychology textbook, “community psychology is concerned with social and community problems, and with how social systems affect the lives of individuals” (Dalton, Elias, & Wandersman, 2001, p.5). Civic engagement refers to how higher education institutions utilize their resources and develop partnerships within social systems to solve community problems. For a formal definition, the American Psychological Association (APA) states civic engagement is “individual and collective actions designed to identify and address issues of public concern” (APA, n.d., para. 2). I see civic engagement as the action or practice component of our work as community psychologists. Within higher education, civic engagement involves not just fostering the act of engagement, but also assisting students and institutions in developing an understanding of social issues and valuing the importance of such action. Through these definitions and the community practice competencies promoted by the Society for Community Research and Action (SCRA), one can see a natural connection between the discipline of community psychology and the profession of higher education civic engagement.

As we continue to graduate individuals with master’s and doctoral degrees in community psychology, it is important to help them consider the various career options available to them within practice, research, and academia. Another viable option has the potential to bridge all three of these realms: higher education civic engagement. I often consider this a career on the fringe of academia, dissimilar to traditional academic roles of faculty or research and somewhat set apart from traditional student affairs roles in areas such as student activities or residence life; a career that exists both within and outside of academia. Civic engagement professionals bridge the community and academia, often living in two worlds with differing norms and culture (Post, Ward, Longo, & Saltmarsh, 2016).

The purpose of this reflective essay is to illustrate the connections between community psychology practice and the field of higher education civic engagement, which navigates the norms and culture both within and outside of academia. In my experience, higher education civic engagement can also exist on the margins within some institutions due to lack of funding, inadequate staffing, and lack of understanding of its importance by administration; however, roles as civic engagement professionals are still a viable option for graduate students and early career professionals in community psychology.  For the purposes of this reflection, I refer to civic engagement professionals as practitioners directing the community engagement of the campus who are distinct from faculty teaching service-learning courses or scholars exclusively involved in researching engagement. These practitioners are mainly staff members, though some may hold faculty appointments as well. They coordinate activities such as service-learning, volunteerism, outreach, community-based research, and much more. This essay shares the myriad of ways graduates can continue to realize their passions for civic engagement by combining the disparate tasks of research, teaching, and practice into one professional field. Principles, competencies, and my own experience of the work are used to illustrate these connections. 

Higher Education Community Engagement


College student civic engagement began to gain momentum in the 1980s with the concept of civic engagement being raised to prominence in the 1990s (Jacoby, 2009); however, higher education in America has a long history of a civic mission (Jacoby, 2009; Hoy & Johnson, 2013). Higher education now finds itself as a major player in turning around the civic disengagement in America and working with communities to improve quality of life (National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement, 2012). This sector carries with it the responsibility to educate students for civic and social responsibility, partner with local stakeholders to impact issues of concern, and serve as an anchor within a community.


A variety of definitions are used to delineate higher education civic engagement (Jacoby, 2009; Levine, 2012). For the purposes of this essay, I refer to the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching’s definition. The definition is quite broad, which allows for numerous incarnations of engagement and is used in their classification system, for which many campuses are striving. The Carnegie definition reads:

Community engagement describes collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities (local, regional/state, national, global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity. The purpose of community engagement is the partnership of college and university knowledge and resources with those of the public and private sectors to enrich scholarship, research, and creative activity; enhance curriculum, teaching and learning; prepare educated, engaged citizens; strengthen democratic values and civic responsibility; address critical societal issues; and contribute to the public good (NERCHE, n.d.).

There are a variety of ways to conceptualize this definition and translate it into practice. These include but are not limited to service-learning, co-curricular service, advocacy, community-based research, philanthropy, political engagement, anchor strategies and town-gown relations, and shared economies. There is also more than one constituent group the profession seeks to engage. Work is often concentrated on engaging college students; however, other practices have sought to engage faculty, staff, or whole departments within the community and much recent focus has turned to engaging institutions as a whole. At the core of these practices lies the formation of reciprocal partnerships between the institution and the community.

Roles of Community Engagement Professionals

The formulation of any particular job within civic engagement can vary by campus based on institution structure, need, and culture; however, common roles for professionals have recently emerged which include: Institutional Strategic Leader, Organizational Manager, Community Innovator, and Field Contributor (McReynolds & Shields, 2015). An Institutional Strategic Leader is someone who serves as a leader on campus to implement, support, and advocate for engagement across an institution. The Organizational Manager role entails proficiency in organizational practices and functioning. Community Innovator pertains to activities related to utilizing engagement to “educate students and impact communities” (p.12). A Field Contributor is involved in the support of civic engagement as a field of research and practice (McReynolds & Shields, 2015).

Relationship to Community Psychology Practice

Community psychology “concerns the relationships of the individual to communities and society. Through collaborative research and action, community psychologists seek to understand and to enhance quality of life for individuals, communities, and society” (Dalton, Elias, & Wandersman, 2001, p.5). Higher education civic engagement plays a role within this definition by seeking to help students, faculty, and institutions build their relationship with communities and by serving as the venue for collaborative research and action. A close form of civic engagement- citizen participation- is even one of the seven core values of community psychology (Dalton, Elias, & Wandersman, 2001).


Service-learning, which is a component of civic engagement, is tightly linked to the values and principles of community psychology. Elias (2008) stated:

Service learning focuses on the needs of communities in specific contexts; it is concerned with individual wellness, building strengths, fostering collaboration, promoting social justice, empowering participation, enhancing a sense of community, respecting diversity, and giving voice to the rarely heard and underserved (Elias, 2008, p. 60-61).

He goes on to state that “service learning operationalizes the values of community psychology” (Elias, 2008, p.61). If service learning, or even civic engagement in general, is closely linked to the values of community psychology, one would expect to see overlaps in the competencies of each field.


To compare competencies for civic engagement with those of community psychology practice, I examined two new publications in the civic engagement literature and matched them to the SCRA community psychology practice competencies (see Dalton & Wolfe, 2012 for detailed descriptions of SCRA competencies). One publication proposes a new competency model for civic engagement professionals; the other outlines roles and activities for professionals. This is my general analysis of the resources and not an empirical examination with triangulation. I reflect on what is presented by these authors in relation to my own experiences as a civic engagement professional, and thus my observations may be biased based on what I have experienced over the years.

While civic engagement has been encouraged, supported, and even institutionalized within higher education for some time, there is a lack of scholarship pertaining to the competencies of civic engagement professionals (Dostilio, 2016). New publications are beginning to shed light on the proficiencies needed to carry out the civic engagement work on campuses.  In a forthcoming Campus Compact publication, Dostilio (2016) developed a set of competencies for higher education civic engagement professionals. The research team utilized a comprehensive review of the literature to develop a set of knowledge, skills and abilities, and dispositions as competencies of the field and piloted it with current civic engagement professionals (Dostilio, 2016). In another recent publication, a group of civic engagement professionals, working through Iowa Campus Compact’s Diving Deep Institute developed a new list of roles for the field based on discussion with current professionals and an analysis of job descriptions. They proposed a model of professional development that includes a listing of activities corresponding to novice, intermediate, and expert competency levels for each of the four roles of Institutional Strategic Leader, Organizational Manager, Community Innovator, and Field Contributor (McReynolds & Shields, 2015). Many of these activities, while not competencies in and of themselves, can be seen as behaviors that lead to or demonstrate varying levels of competency.

Community Related Competencies

Since community psychology pertains to the interaction of individuals and communities and the SCRA competencies are meant for community practice, I focus first on the competencies related to work that higher education does with communities. This sets aside those competencies that are more organizationally focused on building the capacity of the college and general practice within the institution. To me, three community-related SCRA competencies stand out within the civic engagement competencies and activities recently proposed: Socio-Cultural and Cross Cultural Competence, Program Development, and Community Inclusion and Partnership.

Socio-Cultural and Cross Cultural Competence

Cultural competence, defined by Dalton and Wolfe (2012) as “the ability to value, integrate, and bridge multiple worldviews, cultures, and identities” (p. 10), is evident in the civic engagement proficiencies related to an understanding of self in relation to the community and of the intersection of personal identity and engagement (Dostilio et al., 2016). Activities of civic engagement professionals also dictate that they develop a strong understanding of the community and the cultures with which the institution is working. They ensure programs and engagement opportunities are sensitive to culture both on and off campus and involve immersing oneself into the community to understand its context, history, and nuances in order to inform practice on campus (McReynolds & Shields, 2015).

Program Development, Implementation, and Management

Dalton and Wolfe (2012) define this competency as “the ability to partner with community stakeholders to plan, develop, implement, and sustain programs in community settings” (p. 11). This competency is at the core of higher education civic engagement, since this work could not be accomplished without partnerships. Its components of identifying needs and assets of the community and developing partnerships (Dalton & Wolfe, 2012) are evident in both civic engagement competencies (Dostilio et al., 2016) and activities (McReynolds & Shields, 2015). These relationships are driven by partnership principles, which dictate reciprocity, mutual benefit, and shared goals (Torres & Schaffer, 2000) indicating the need to work with partners to develop programs together.

Community Inclusion and Partnership

It should be of no surprise to civic engagement professionals that I find Community Inclusion and Partnerships to be a prevalent theme for competencies in our field. Community partnerships within civic engagement entail respect for community expertise and perspectives (Dostilio et al., 2016) - all elements that would require “the ability to promote genuine representation and respect for all community members, and act to legitimize divergent perspectives on community and social issues” as indicated in the community psychology practice competencies (Dalton & Wolfe, 2012, p. 10). Developing partnerships between higher education and the community involves understanding one’s own power (Dostilio et al., 2016), working with the community to understand issues of concern, and continually assessing and maintaining the reciprocity within the partnerships (McReynolds & Shields, 2015). 

There can be many challenges to developing effective university-community partnerships, which require a civic engagement professional to be adept at navigating. For instance, the terminology often used for partnership and reciprocity reveal nothing of resident voice and control (Stoecker, 2016). Also, with much of the partnership work focused on collaborations with nonprofit organizations, one must consider how truly representative nonprofits are of those they serve and whether they are able to speak with the voice of those they serve (Kelly & Caputo, 2011; Morton & Bergbauer, 2015). Competencies related to power structures and inclusion of residents/community members become important when working to overcome these obstacles. For instance, Silka and Renault-Caragianes (2006) propose questions to ask in order to develop a research cycle through a university-community research cycle, which have the potential to bring about tensions within the partnership. These include questions of how the research agenda is set, what the focus of the problem-solving will be, the purpose of the research, the methods to be used, ownership of data, review of findings, and what the timeline will be for the project(s) (Silka & Renault-Caragianes, 2006). These questions are reflected in other critiques of community-based research (e.g., Minkler, 2005), which require competencies related to responsibly developing and managing university-community partnerships. Answering these questions through the research cycle requires competencies related to the “genuine representation and respect for all community members” (Dalton & Wolfe, 2012, p.10)

Empowerment and Ecological Perspectives

The civic engagement publications touch on two other community practice competencies, Empowerment and Ecological Perspectives. Dalton and Wolfe (2012) define empowerment as “the ability to articulate and apply a collective empowerment perspective, to support communities that have been marginalized in their efforts to gain access to resources and to participate in community decision-making” (p.10) and ecological perspectives as “the ability to articulate and apply multiple ecological perspectives and levels of analysis in community practice” (p.10). Within the Empowerment competency, civic engagement professionals should have a commitment to understanding power dynamics (Dostilio et al., 2016); however, there is no indication of a focus on working toward empowerment in the community. One wonders if this absence is due to a focus more on charity than change, which has the potential to be devoid of concepts of empowerment.

Ecological Perspectives is also touched on briefly through civic engagement competencies related to a knowledge of context and the community (Dostilio et al., 2016; McReynolds & Shields, 2015); however, it does not appear to be prevalent, which seems strange given the emphasis we place on helping students understand root causes of issues.

Absence of Competencies

Somewhat surprising is a lack of or little connection to the following community practice competencies: Public Policy Analysis, Development and Advocacy, Community Organizing and Community Advocacy, Community Development, Collaboration and Coalition Development, Prevention and Health Promotion, and Community Leadership and Mentoring. Since our work as civic engagement professionals is geared toward working with communities to address issues, one would expect greater attention to a knowledge base of practice techniques. Community Organizing has even been proposed as essential to our work as professionals to move toward models of social change. Stoecker (2016) recently stated “knowledge for community organizing is essential to all higher education civic engagement” (p. 105). Within Dostilio’s (2016) analysis, civic engagement professionals indicate that a knowledge of community and economic development should be added to the model. This inclusion could be due to the expansion of many community engagement endeavors from strictly social services to include more of a community/economic development focus (Dostilio’s, 2016). The addition of this competency may shed light on the roles of community organizing and community development and how those competencies fit into our work as civic engagement professionals.

Organizational Related Competencies

As mentioned above, I have illustrated those civic engagement competencies and activities directly related to work with and in the community outside campus; however, both of these newly created publications indicate there is a connection between even more of the community practice competencies, based on the work professionals perform within the organization (college or university). These connections are summarized below. 

Much of the work of civic engagement professionals involves the following: serving as a civic engagement consultant to the rest of campus as well as other institutions and assisting the organization with developing its capacity for engagement (Consultation and Organizational Development); fundraising and securing sustainable funding streams for campus civic engagement (Resource Development); communicating engagement’s value and advocating for it on campus and in the community (Community Education); and communicating with multiple constituencies, facilitating meetings, and resolving conflicts (Small and Large Group Processes) (summarized from Dostilio et al., 2016; McReynolds & Shields, 2015).

Program Evaluation is another competency addressed in both publications. Competencies and activities involve knowledge of assessment and evaluation as well as the ability to carry them out. Assessment and evaluation pertain to student outcomes, partnerships, and community impact. Both publications also touch on working with the community in assessment and evaluation of programming, impact, and the partnership itself (Dostilio et al., 2016; McReynolds & Shields, 2015).

Reflections of a Civic Engagement Professional

Throughout my experience as a civic engagement professional, I have found all of the community practice competencies have a role to play in my work. As with many higher education roles, I am consistently developing, managing and evaluating programming, focusing on building organizational capacity, and maximizing resources. Here I will limit my reflection to the two most prevalent competencies that may differ from other roles within higher education and make civic engagement professionals unique on campuses. These include Ecological Perspectives and Community Education. While I do not claim to be proficient or at an expert level of these competencies, I provide a reflection here of a foundation I have found particularly helpful within each of my jobs in this field. These do not necessarily align with the civic engagement competencies previously developed, but I find myself going back to them time and again.

In many ways, higher education civic engagement is focused on mobilizing campus resources to work with communities addressing social issues. I have found it beneficial to understand that these issues exist and are affected by multiple ecological levels. When planning programming, one must consider at which ecological level(s) the programming is targeting the issue, which will also determine appropriate partnerships to develop. This perspective also comes into play when training or teaching students in civic engagement principles. This perspective assists me in moving students from addressing emergency individual needs to considering public policies and contexts that play a role in why the needs exist.

The competency of Community Education, Information Dissemination, and Building Public Awareness has also been a major component of my work. Not every institution nor every individual at an institution supports extensive community-based learning. Even if it is a pervasive concept on a campus, not all faculty, staff, or students know how to put it into practice; this takes educating and creating awareness for it. Therefore, I have found civic engagement practice involves helping constituents both on and off campus understand what engagement looks like now, what its potential future may be, and how it can be incorporated into campus and community teaching, research, and practice. I often find myself working to convince faculty and staff of engagement’s potential as well as convincing the institution of engagement’s importance and that it should be supported and resourced. This work has also involved communicating with community organizations of engagement’s benefits and how to access it. Agencies could have preconceived notions of what engagement should look like, which limits perceptions of the possibilities of working with institutions to the realm of traditional community service activities; however, with a little education about partnership possibilities and working with agencies to understand their needs and communicate the institution’s resources, one can work more toward a model of change instead of charity. 


What I found most striking in comparing the community psychology competencies with higher education civic engagement is the small focus on competencies related to knowledge of community practice. Since our work as engagement professionals centers on such activities as building relationships with communities, developing partnerships, helping students and faculty engage with the community, it seems as if community practice competencies would be more pronounced, at least on an equivalent level as the more organizationally focused competencies. One would expect more connections to the competencies of Community Development, Coalition Building, Community Organizing and Advocacy, Public Policy, Empowerment, and Ecological Perspective; however, this may be the next phase of the civic engagement field. The future incorporation of these competencies into our work as civic engagement professionals could have profound positive effects. Nevertheless, this omission of community practice elements leads me to three questions for civic engagement professionals: Is community practice part of the work we do, and we just don’t talk about it enough to include in lists of competencies? Is community practice a small part of our roles on campus, which would explain their paucity in the competencies? Should community practice be part of our role, but we are not doing enough of it now to include it in current competencies?

A New Role for Community Psychologists

Higher education civic engagement can learn a tremendous amount from community psychology practice and the SCRA competencies specifically. In the last few years there has been a sense of stagnation in the field of civic engagement and a need for a renewed emphasis on the actual work we are doing with communities and within our institutions (Saltmarsh & Hartley, 2011). For instance, scholars have suggested a move away from traditional models of civic engagement as activity (i.e., community service, service-learning, etc.) toward democratic engagement which involves transforming higher education institutions to fulfill their democratic purpose (Saltmarsh & Hartley, 2011). This entails “reorienting the work from a vague emphasis on community involvement toward an agenda that seeks significant societal change” (Saltmarsh & Hartley, 2011, p. 4). Another scholar suggests we move “institutional service-learning” (civic engagement) from a focus on student development to engaging students in social change, which helps to transform our work from charity to change (Stoecker, 2016). These ideas have been taken one step further to suggest collaborative engagement be our next frontier, where we restructure our work with communities to focus on building community instead of partnerships (Longo & Gibson, 2016; Stoecker, 2016).

Ultimately, we would be moving toward a full consideration of community benefit and impact. This renewed focus seems to take more of an ecological perspective through the emphasis on the integration of multiple voices, collaboration across sectors, asset-based work, and contextualized knowledge. It incorporates individual, institutional, and community levels within the understanding of social problems and strategies of working together toward solutions (Saltmarsh & Hartley, 2011). This type of work with communities also seems to suggest professionals would need to be competent in a variety of community practices such as community building, organizing, and empowerment. 

There are plenty of opportunities for community psychologists to utilize the competencies and proficiencies to enhance the social impact that higher education will have in the community and help civic engagement return to some of its original standards of practice. For instance, in 1979, Robert Sigmon proposed that service-learning had three principles that should be followed. These included: “those being served control the service(s) provided; those being served become better able to serve and be served by their own actions; those who serve also are learners and have significant control over what is expected to be learned” (Sigmon, 1979, p. 10). While these seem to be foundational principles, one wonders if we have strayed too far from them, with much of our work becoming devoid of concepts of empowerment and capacity building and more centered on charity (Stoecker, 2016).

There are a variety of reasons higher education may have forgone these principles including the theories used to define the field, the terminology used, the focus on students first, and the devaluation of politics and transformation within the community engagement sphere. Stoecker (2016) suggests theories that have informed our work including communitarianism, social capital, asset-based engagement, and neoliberalism have focused on the individual (both students and individuals in the community) and are lacking in social justice and systems-level approaches. This has confined the field to charity. Our terminology has also limited us. As can be seen in the mere definition of community engagement used by the Carnegie Foundation, community impact is somewhat minimized and the effects for the students and the institution brought to the forefront. Indeed, much of our rhetoric in higher education community engagement has taken both community control and community impacts far from our main focus (Stoecker, 2016; Saltmarsh & Hartley, 2011). Starting with John Dewey, whose theory is often used as the basis of the field, students and their learning have been the main focus of higher education community engagement (Stoecker, 2016; Saltmarsh & Hartley, 2011). Taken together, individualism and the lack of consideration for community have led the field to also become quite apolitical (Stoecker, 2016; Saltmarsh & Hartley, 2011). This has left our institutions unwilling or unable to transform themselves for democratic practice and lead us deeper into the work of charity activities than true change within our systems, practices, and processes (Saltmarsh & Hartley, 2011; Stoecker, 2016).     

Community psychology practice competencies could address some of these barriers to help institutions transform themselves and become ready to truly partner with communities. Specifically, training community engagement professionals in community inclusion, empowerment, and ecological perspectives can help institutions of higher education break away from community engagement’s individual nature, its focus solely on students before community, and its perspective that keeps the status quo of institutions devoid of critical analysis of their own policies and practices. A new amalgamation with the addition of community psychology values and competencies could strengthen the field, where we could return to Sigmon’s principles and keep them at our core with the added principles of community psychology set forth by the Society for Community Research and Action, adding greater value and impact to civic engagement.


There are definite opportunities for higher education civic engagement to be a viable career option for community psychologists; however, for those graduate students or early career professionals considering this field, some barriers should be noted. Every institution is different and not all professionals see the same set of challenges, so I present a word of caution in generalizing too far with the challenges presented here. For these, I reflect on my own work. Working both in direct practice of civic engagement as well as at a level of support for professionals, there are three main challenges I see as relevant for graduate students and early career professionals to be aware of as they consider entering the field (for an example of further explication of challenges specific to civic engagement practice, see Eby’s (1998) analysis reflection on service-learning and Stoecker’s (2016) analysis for current engagement practice):

(1) Civic engagement can be a conglomeration of activities with no real focus. On some campuses, faculty, staff, and students are adding more and more service type activities without a central point of reference, such as an issue area or a particular community partner. The focus becomes the number of hours served or the number of students engaged (Saltmarsh & Hartley, 2011; Stoecker, 2016). 

(2) At some institutions, much of the civic engagement work is more charity than change. While charity work is needed to address immediate needs, our work with our institutions cannot stop there. Without an office or institution taking an ecological perspective, much student led engagement ends up materializing as donation drives, direct service to organizations addressing immediate needs, or raising awareness on campus of a particular issue that doesn’t have much actual impact.

(3) Civic engagement looks different on every campus and is valued differently on every campus. While higher education in general has a public purpose and campuses incorporate some form of engagement or citizenship into their mission statements, not all campuses provide resources for engagement at the same level and can vary widely in how much emphasis they place on it by incorporating it into core functioning.  


Even with its challenges, higher education civic engagement is a form of community psychology practice that provides community psychologists a viable career option for combining research, academia, and practice. Higher education civic engagement has become a professional field over the last few decades. Large national organizations connect professionals to the latest trends in research and practice and provide for professional development within the field (Jacoby, 2009; Lambert-Pennington, 2012; Saltmarsh & Hartley, 2011). Many campuses also seek national recognition for engagement in the form of the Carnegie Foundation’s Community Engagement Classification and must meet engagement requirements of regional accrediting bodies (Jacoby, 2009). Higher education civic engagement has been a lasting part of academia and should be taken seriously as a viable career option for community psychologists.

Community psychology as a discipline and higher education civic engagement as a career field both concern themselves with working with communities and therefore share some competencies of practice; however, there is much more that civic engagement can learn and gain from the principles and practices of community psychology to strengthen its efforts to create lasting change in communities and prepare students as our next generation of socially responsible citizens. Community psychology can be a guiding light to guide civic engagement where it needs to go and better meet the demands of our communities. While civic engagement professionals may see themselves on the margin of academia, where they are not quite as academic as faculty yet somehow different from practitioners in traditional community settings, this profession provides community psychologists with opportunities to combine interests in teaching, research, and practice while living out their passions for working with communities.


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Tabitha Underwood Tabitha Underwood

Tabitha Underwood, Ph.D. serves as the Executive Director of Missouri Campus Compact. She has worked in the nonprofit, government, and higher education sectors to foster community engagement and prepare?students for leadership within their communities. Her research interests typically fall within the areas of community engagement, neighborhood interaction, community building, and sense of community.?Tabitha holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Indiana University and a?Doctorate in Community Psychology from North Carolina State University. Email: Corresponding address: Missouri State University-Springfield Missouri Campus Compact 901 S. National Springfield, MO 65897. 

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Tabitha Underwood (Missouri) March 15, 2017

Emily, I would agree that SCRA is a little farther along when it comes to inclusion. Since it's part of the organization's core and is expressly stated. It seems that within higher ed civic engagement, we have only come around to the idea recently. I'm speculating, but part of that may have to do with the historical use of the word "service" that sets up an us/them dynamic and savior complex that does not always involve inclusion.
Debbie Terlip (Oklahoma) March 02, 2017

Very good comparison of the shared goals and practices between community psychology and civic engagement. The author's observations on the absence of community psychology's full competencies in higher education civic engagement is a good contrast to make against some of the challenges higher education faces, including its noted need to remain institutionally apolitical. It is fair to note that certain academic fields, such as some in the social sciences, lend their work in higher education engaged research and academic service learning more robustly to the competencies of community psychology.
Emily Shields (Iowa) March 01, 2017

Thank you for the citation! I love the comparison between the two fields. It gives me the sense that community psychology is a little farther along than we are in terms of incorporating inclusion. Do you agree?

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Keywords: Higher Education Community Engagement, community psychology competencies, community practice