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National distinction

Posted 7 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022

UW-La Crosse recreation students worked with City Of La Crosse officials and others during the pandemic in 2021 to help determine options for a collaborative tennis court facility at Green Island Park in La Crosse. The university’s efforts to expand real-world, hands-on learning experiences for students while helping area businesses has received national distinction.

American higher ed organization honors UW-La Crosse community program

A UW-La Crosse program that gives students real-world, hands-on learning experiences while helping area organizations has received national recognition.

UWL’s Community Engaged Learning Program has received the 2022 AASCU Excellence & Innovation Award for Civic Learning and Community Engagement. The American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) gives the award to cite the outstanding results and potential of a program to influence and serve as a model for other institutions. AASCU is a Washington, D.C.-based higher education association of nearly 400 public colleges, universities and systems nationwide.

Programs recognized have top-level administrative support, connect with an institution’s mission and strategic plan and contribute to significant institutional improvements or programming, along with being grounded in research and incorporating best practices. Community engaged courses require a minimum of 15 hours of work with a community partner and include at least one class learning outcome connected to job skills that employers nationwide have identified as critical to workforce success.

The UWL program has gained momentum since being introduced to faculty before the fall 2021 semester. In its first five months, 19 course sections received the Community Engaged Learning designation, allowing 315 students to assist with about 36 businesses, non-profits or civic organizations. Nearly 85% of the partnerships were in La Crosse County.

The primary intent of the Community Engaged Learning program is to give students real-world experience to help them grow their skills while making them more marketable to future employers, says Lisa Klein, UWL Community Engagement coordinator. Community service is an added benefit.

“The program gives students real opportunities to apply their learning that also meets the needs of our wonderful community,” says Klein. “Through these experiences, UWL instructors work to help students recognize the job skills they are developing and how to market those skills to their future employers.”

UWL Provost Betsy Morgan agrees the program is critical to building strong relationships between students and La Crosse organizations. And, she notes, it aligns perfectly with increasing community engagement, which is part of the university’s strategic plan.

“I have been very impressed with the work the committee and Lisa have done to develop a process with integrity that serves students and the community,” notes Morgan. “It is exciting to see the acknowledgment of the work that was crystalized due to UWL’s strategic planning process.”

UWL Chancellor Joe Gow credits the Community Engagement Council’s work and Klein’s leadership for the Community Engaged Learning program’s quick success.

"It’s remarkable to think that Lisa Klein has only been in her role here at UWL for under three years—and now we are winning a prestigious national award for community engagement,” notes Gow. “This is a clear testament to Lisa’s outstanding leadership skills."

Early successful, hands-on learning experiences through community engagement partnerships have included conducting and analyzing surveys for La Crosse’s Women's Fund to better understand the most pressing economic, social and health needs of area residents. UWL students have also helped YMCA mental health advocates correspond with Spanish-speakers needing services, along with assisting Downtown Mainstreet with acquiring grants for art initiatives.

See more about the program’s impact.

Get the details about UWL’s community engagement.

Learn about additional ways UWL provides community service and experiential learning


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