Academic Community Engagement Day: Celebrating AUC's Dedication to Service

“Community involvement is something beautiful that AUC engages in. We need more of it if we really want to make a change in education,” said Minister of Education and Technical Education Tarek Shawki, who served as former dean of AUC’s School of Sciences and Engineering.

Speaking at AUC’s Academic Community Engagement (ACE) Day, an annual celebration of the University’s long-held community-based learning tradition that blends service activities with academic courses, Shawki added, “I have long admired community-based learning at AUC, which now has a stronger and more important role, and we should expand on it. We should all thank AUC very much for this [community-based learning].”

Describing education reform in Egypt as a collective effort involving civil society, academia, the government and parents, Shawki noted, “The issue of education is not a ministerial issue, but that of society. … Changing education will not come about with a ministerial or institutional decision. It should be a general desire to make a change in education. It’s a process that will take time and needs a lot of work. … AUC is a rich source of expertise, and we would like to partner with the University to tackle some of Egypt’s education issues.”

Training the Trainers

Administered by the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Studies, the ACE program aims to expand the University’s borderless classroom. One of its main components, the ACE Teacher Training Program, has extended its reach to the Ma’asara neighborhood in Cairo, providing public school teachers and administrators from the area with professional and technical training. A collaborative effort with the Department of English Language Instruction and the Center for Learning and Teaching, the project has AUC faculty members training 20 public school teachers and administrators in Ma’asara through professional development courses, split evenly between English language training and the integration of technology into the classroom. This past year, ACE was additionally able to offer professionally oriented and English-language training to anchors, publishers, directors, journalists and other members of the Egyptian national television, in collaboration with the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication. Both the Ma’asara public school teachers and the Egyptian national television trainees were awarded at the event.  

“Today’s event might be termed a dual ceremony,” said Robert Switzer, dean of undergraduate studies and the Academy of Liberal Arts. “In addition to ACE, today we’re also celebrating our collaboration with the Ministry of Education, the Ma’asara school district and Egypt national television.”

President Francis Ricciardone emphasized AUC’s role in the larger community, speaking to the significance of the University’s ties with Ma’asara school district. “What makes AUC special is that we incorporate service outside of our walls and into the program of study,” Ricciardone explained, saying that the participants in the community engagement program "are students. They are studying, learning from you, not only there to serve with you, but to learn from you in the Ma’asara district.”   

Highlighting the importance of education in advancing societies worldwide, parliamentarian Ismail Nasr El Din thanked AUC for “always being a pioneer in collaborating and providing assistance of all kinds for [Egyptian society] to develop, especially with regard to teachers and education.” Nasr El Din also commended AUC’s role in developing the community to “build a strong, advanced society” and called on all universities to follow similar paths, saying that AUC is a leader in establishing connections with civil society and providing knowledge and enlightenment tools.

The director of the Maasara school district, Tarek Maamoun, and Ma’asara English teacher, Huida Fadl, addressed attendees, commenting on the strength of the program at a time when education reform is critical.

Switzer also underlined the ACE program’s involvement in the co-curricular transcript movement as well as the Boundary Crossing and Community Integrative Research Initiative. He outlined the collaborative alliances that have made the ACE program a success. “For AUC, it has been a chance to strengthen the University’s civic engagement, letting us live up to our aim and responsibility to give back to the community we’re part of,” he noted.

Faculty-NGO Partnerships

At the event, AUC faculty members engaged in community-based learning classes had the chance to share their experiences. This year, Carie Forden, psychology professor and director of the counseling and community psychology graduate programs at AUC, received the Civically Minded Faculty/NGO Partnership Award for her work with Wataneya Society for the Development of Orphanages.

"The thing I really appreciate about this award is that it is given for a partnership, not for individual achievement," said Forden. "As a community psychologist, partnering with community organizations is essential to the work I do, and I am very grateful for all the support ACE has given me in building those partnerships. This particular partnership with Wataneya has been especially fruitful. My students and I have learned so much from working with their staff and clients, and in turn, it has been a privilege for us to support the groundbreaking work they do to help children in institutional care."

Service: A University Tradition

The ACE program began in 2007 out of a partnership between the John D. Gerhart Center for Philanthropy and Civic Engagement and the Center for Learning and Teaching. When ACE was founded, it inherited an already deeply-rooted and well-developed program of community-based learning (CBL), which similarly aims to expose students in the classroom to active experience in the community.

In the 2016-2017 academic year, there were 32 courses, taught by 28 faculty members, that were either full CBL classes or featured CBL components. Total enrollment in these classes totaled approximately 700 students. Since Spring 2008, more than 300 CBL courses have been offered at AUC, taught by more than 330 faculty members, with enrollment reaching nearly 10,000 students.

Highlighting the importance of service to the AUC community, ACE Day underlines how deeply intertwined this value is in all aspects of the University. “Our mission here is to serve –– to serve Egypt, to serve the region,” said Ricciardone.

Ricciardone also praised the field of education “There’s no higher form of service, I believe, than education, investment, growing the future, growing our human capital for the future,” he declared.

Switzer remarked on the uniqueness of the ACE program as well, noting that, “community-based learning is going into the community and helping, but it is also a type of pedagogy. It is a form of experiential learning that requires both in and out-of-the-classroom practice, an element of reflection and critical self-awareness.”