Niagara University—the only Western New York college or university that has been named to the President’s Honor Roll for Community Service every year since 2006—is strategically transforming its approach to service learning and student engagement in the community.
IMPACT, the rebranding of the university’s flagship Learn and Serve Niagara program, will focus on producing measurable outcomes that make quantifiable differences in areas of community need. It will connect Niagara’s faculty and students with local and regional organizations through a collective impact model, providing valuable human capital as well as research and advocacy to address identified community shortfalls in the Western New York region and beyond.
“This unique approach emphasizes career preparation through service and civic engagement,” said Patricia Wrobel, executive director, who will be overseeing IMPACT. “We always measured results, however, this has been in terms of service hours. This new approach that will foster a deeper understanding of civic engagement while producing both a systemic change in our community and a future workforce that is attuned and prepared to identify and meet community needs.”
The IMPACT model calls for civic and community engagement to be integrated more broadly into the university’s academic curricula, leveraging the expertise of Niagara University professors in more fully integrating community impact across degree programs and into research.
The value-added of this model is one that focuses on the role of the university in working in partnership with the regional community to leverage change that will influence the economics of the region and the difference among students who graduate with this experience. Dominic Hannon, a senior communications major, has volunteered at Family & Children’s Service of Niagara during his time as a Niagara student. “I have come to realize the importance of the services this agency provided to people of all ages from various socio-economic backgrounds and how the need for expanded services increased over time. The integration of service learning in my academic courses over four years has built a strong foundation and commitment to the community that will shape my career and professional life after I graduate from Niagara University.”
The IMPACT model requires students to construct projects that they will implement over the course of their academic careers, and that make quantifiable differences in areas of community need. Projects will focus on gaps in regional services that are identified annually by program administrators in consultation with community stakeholders.
The collective impact strategy aligns directly with the university’s mission and Strategic Vision Commitments, which include educating students as citizens of the world while fostering economic and social development in the surrounding region with the community and its strategic partners.
“The IMPACT model will provide our students with a deeper understanding of Niagara University’s Catholic and Vincentian mission to serve those most in need and the importance of lifelong civic engagement,” said the Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., president of Niagara University. “With St. Vincent de Paul and the Vincentian mission as our inspiration, students, working side by side with faculty and administrators, will learn how to identify problems, take action, and see themselves as agents of change, thus mobilizing a 21st century workforce that is prepared to recognize and address long-term community needs. That is ‘The Power of Niagara University.’”