In the last 20 years, Community-Engaged Learning (CEL) teaching strategies have become a widespread practice and field of study. Often identified as a high-impact practice, service-learning has been shown to contribute to significant student learning outcomes and retention (AACU; NSSE). While scholarship argues for various nuanced definitions of service-learning, it may be generally defined as a form of experiential education in which students engage in activities that address identified community initiatives and contribute to the public good.

Effective Community-Engaged Learning at CBU distinguishes itself from volunteerism and community service in three important and essential ways:

  • The content of the course directly relates to students’ service experiences and/or projects.
  • CBU faculty, students, and staff co-create the service component of the course in collaboration with community partners.
  • The course incorporates structured reflection activities that guide students to critically engage with their assumptions, beliefs, and prior knowledge before, during, and after service-learning experiences. Critical reflection encourages students to discern and appreciate complexity and multiple perspectives from their community-based experiences, which in turn enhances discussion and comprehension of course material and concepts. As an extension of the Lasallian principles, Community-Engaged Learning reflection will also prompt students to address systemic and institutional causes of social injustice.

Examples of Community-Engaged Learning at CBU include:

  • RS 331 The Spirituality and Ethics of Eating: In a course focused on multiple religious perspectives on human relationships to food, students serve with food-related non-profits and complete reflections and a final paper based on their service experiences.
  • ENG 355 Jane Austin and the Civic Commons: Partnered with Memphis Public Libraries, this course asks students to develop the concept for a digital app that empowers community members participation in and creation of public spaces.   
  • HUM 210 Introduction to Sustainability: Students joined Memphis City Beautiful and Memphis Storm Drains city office to educate 4th graders about the local aquifer. Stemming from this educational outreach project, CBU students developed campus-based service workshops and projects. 
  • MGMT 490 Seminar in Leadership: Students oversee programming for a DECA and FBLA conference at CBU and develop leadership workshops to deliver to leaders of local high school organizations.  
  • CHEM 429 Research Seminar IV: Students help guide, organize, and judge local middle and high school science fairs. 
  • PSYC 380A SPTP: Autism in the Community: Students work with local organizations that serve individuals on the spectrum and their families. 
  • PSYC 105 General Psychology: Students facilitated parent meetings and home visitations as part of a child development and parental well-bring program. 
  • ENGL 460 SPTP: Food Justice Garden Literature: Students engage in community gardening projects, community dinner programs, and digital transcriptions of Early Modern texts to connect food and garden literature to local food issues and to contribute to the field of literary study. 
    • ENG 245/355 – Environmental Literature: In this six-person Special Topics course, Dr. Jacob Goessling and his class will survey a range of ways that writers and artists have imagined futures, both good and bad. In applying these skills by interacting with and interviewing Compass Orange Mound Middel School students (and the extended community), they then remediating these conversations into a project design for the school playground. This course is in partnership with Memphis Film Works, Compass Community Schools, and Clean Memphis. It also includes additional outside consulting & volunteer-led work during Summer 2023.
      • RS 294 Religion and Environment: Within this course, Dr. Emily Holmes examines the intersections of religion with environmental concerns through an exploration of the concept of “place”: our place on this planet, in this city, and on this campus. Through the lens of place, the class will consider religious frameworks that situate human beings in our environment and connect us to the land and animals which inhabit it, to the food we eat, and to the resources on which we depend. The approach will be both textual and experiential, exploring Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, and Native American beliefs, practices, and sacred stories that connect people to places, and applying these concepts and practices through community engaged learning and our own contemplative experience. This course is in partnership with Carpenter Art Garden and Landmark Training & Development Company.

For examples of Community-Engaged Learning or service-learning syllabi please see Campus Compact’s Archive of Syllabi and the CBU Community-Engaged Learning syllabi (below):

  1. Selected Topics in Psychology: Autism in the Community
  2. MGMT 490: Seminar in Leadership
  3. ENG 355: Jane Austen and the Civic Commons

Support from the Center for Community Engagement

The CCE aims to support faculty and administrators through course development workshopping, facilitation of community partnerships, and professional development opportunities. These three facets are executed in the following ways:

  • Assist in identifying community partnerships relevant to course content, and facilitate communication and collaboration in faculty-student-partner relationships. 
  • Provide models, resources and course design instruction. The CCE hopes to compile and share digital resources on a Canvas site that will be available to all CBU faculty and staff members.
  • Offer one-on-one consultations, workshops, and other forms of assistance to Community-Engaged Learning faculty or those considering or wanting to learn more about CEL pedagogy. 
  • Identify a peer CEL mentor to support you before and during your Community-Engaged Learning course.

 An Agreement for Collaboration and Partnership

 When you have determined that a partnership would meet the goals of all involved — students, community members, a community organization, and the university — complete the Community Engaged Learning Partner Agreement Guide to help define these relationships and the community project. You can use this agreement guide at any point in the development of a partnership, but it may be most helpful to use this tool as early as possible to establish clear expectations and a foundation for communication.

Consider completing the guide in-person and collaboratively via discussion. If this is not available, it is recommended that parties complete this document virtually by way of a web call.


This agreement is indebted to the “CCEL Resources Agreement: An Agreement to Work Together” from the Centre for Community-Engaged Learning at the University of British Columbia.