Engagement best practices

Beyond the classroom!

Community Engaged Learning involves fostering mutually beneficial partnerships that enhance student learning, address societal concerns, and improve quality of life by co-creating partnerships that meet community needs.

Engagement best practices

Check yourself!

What you do and how you do it matters.

Checklist details

At the Office of Community Engagement, we get to work with incredible students, faculty, and staff who want to make a positive, tangible impact in our communities. As you develop relationships and move towards action, consider the points on this checklist.

Before you engage:

  • Remember you are representing the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse, as well as yourself and your program.
  • Learn more about the partnering organization and the issue with a critical eye towards history and context.
  • Research existing community-based efforts, paying attention to the role of those impacted in the creation and sustainability of those efforts.
  • Assess ways you can contribute to those existing efforts (time, talent or treasure).
  • Consider how your own social identities and experiences influence your understanding of these issues and may impact your contribution.
  • If an opportunity doesn’t fit your objectives, help the community organization find a possible fit by referring it to the Community Engagement Office.

During the experience:

  • Engage with respect, compassion and humility.

After the experience:

  • Reflect and ask: What did I learn? How did the experience challenge what I thought I knew? What do I need to learn more about?
  • Consider how you will continue to engage as an active citizen.

How to engage!

You represent UWL.

Checklist details

Community engagement can lead to meaningful outcomes for our partners and an excellent real-world experience for our students and future graduates. As a representative of UWL who is developing a relationship with a community member, consider these best practices to help provide a positive experience.

The Art of Small Talk

Getting the conversation started!

  • Shake hands
  • Make eye contact
  • Introduce yourself. Create a 30 second elevator speech:
    • “Hello. My name is John Johnson. I am an instructor in the ABC Department at UWL. I look forward to hearing your ideas about a potential community-campus partnership.”
    • Greet people with enthusiasm
    • Be the first person to extend a hand if you don’t know someone
    • When you do not remember someone’s name: “Don’t finesse, just confess”
    • View a room of strangers as a room of stories that you want to learn
  • Use comfortable or non-threatening topics to begin conversations
  • Ask questions and listen – be genuine and approachable
    • “Tell me about your role at ABC company.”
    • “What led you to this position?”
    • “What is your favorite part about working/volunteering here?”
    • “What is the mission/purpose/goal of your organization?”
  • Allow them to talk – don’t monopolize the conversation
  • Aim for a conversation that goes beyond the surface – become engaged
  • Compliment sincerely
  • Etiquette – Being conscientious of others’ needs and making them comfortable
  • Recognize when to end the conversation
    • “It was so nice to meet you.”
    • “I will let you connect with others.”
    • “I hope to connect/follow up with you soon.”
    • “I appreciate your time today. Thank you.”
    • “I’d be happy to connect again at another time. Do you have a business card?”
    • “Here is my business card if you’d like to connect again.”

Professional Communication

Effectively communicating your goals, expectations, and questions!

  • Smile and be positive to set the tone of the interaction
  • Well-spoken and confident
  • Communicating genuineness and sincerity
  • Good grammar – both in speaking and writing
  • Appropriate capitalization and punctuation in written and email correspondence
  • Proofread twice (once for grammar/spelling, once for flow)

Communicate Effectively with Technology

Use technology politely to bring people together!

  • Use technology to collaborate, not disengage
  • Recognize that email and social media is not private
  • State the purpose of an email and whether an attachment is included early in email
  • When an email becomes too long, talk face to face
  • Never respond to an email out of anger – give yourself time to think diplomatically

Dressing the Part

Being appropriately dressed makes a powerful impression!

  • Ask the organization for their dress code (always avoid inappropriate graphics/language on clothing)
  • If you must ask if it is appropriate to wear, it most likely is not


Ready to roll!

  • Be on time
    • Build a reputation that people can count on you, they know you will be there when needed, and you will complete the project given
    • Arrive ready to work – not to eat your breakfast/lunch/dinner or scroll through social media/texts/emails
    • Display an attitude that you are ready to interact and engage

Exceeding the Minimum

Being the best version of you!

  • What more can you do to grow your knowledge and help the community partner?
  • Increase your knowledge of the organization and community – read the newspaper and watch the news
  • Own your mistakes and learn from them
  • Avoid checking your phone
  • Be open to changes and seek collaboration on new ideas
    • When receiving feedback, listen with humility

Memorable Collaboration & Partnership

Make a difference!

  • When people think of UWL, do they think of you? Did you make an impression that they feel comfortable contacting you or the Office of Community Engagement for future partnerships?
  • Give a genuine and sincere thank you for the partnership
  • Write a follow-up note or email after first meeting and at the end of the experience
    • Personalize the note with a fact you remember from the conversation
    • Consider connecting with them on LinkedIn
    • Consider what expertise you and the community partner can bring to the table. All parties are experts in their respective fields.
Contact us!

Lisa Klein, Community Engagement Coordinator



Visit us!

UWL Office of Community Engagement
Cleary Alumni & Friends Center, Room 104
1725 State Street
La Crosse, WI 54601