Thanks in part to donor support, the Center for Civic Engagement was established in 2015 as a nexus for community-based initiatives, civic learning and public engagement at Salem State University. From annual days of service to civic fellowship opportunities, the center creates continuous opportunities for students to feel connected to their campus and surrounding communities.
With incoming students facing a host of new decisions at the start of the fall semester, the Center for Civic Engagement and the first year experience office collaborate on initiatives that promote social justice and civic engagement while building social networks. The First Year Day of Service is an opportunity for the approximately 200 first-year and transfer students to find their sense of place within their university community and among their peers. Dozens of community partners host student volunteers to complete much-needed neighborhood projects on the North Shore.
“At the end of the day it is about students connecting with each other and feeling a sense of belonging at Salem State. If students find one person who they can go to lunch with or ask to join a club with them, it feels like a success,” says Cynthia Lynch, assistant vice provost for civic engagement and academic strategic support. “We’re so grateful to our community of donors who provided the structure and support for these well-established campus initiatives.”
The civic fellowship is another unique cohort program that provides students with the opportunity to explore their strengths, values and passions in order to form their civic identity and role in social change. The fellows meet twice a month for meetings, service projects, advocacy opportunities, leadership training, and a chance to build a sense of community amongst the cohort. “The civic fellowship is what made me stay at Salem State, fall in love with the university and community and introduce me to my passions for civic engagement and social change,” says Hannah Levine ’22, who received a bachelor’s degree in social work.
When Hannah first arrived at Salem State she planned to transfer, but then participated in the First Year Day of Service and her attitude quickly changed. She met like-minded students who became good friends and participated in advocacy initiatives and community service projects. She became invested in the Salem State community and cofounded the SSU Hunger Free Campus Coalition, which advocates on the local and state level for food equity.
The civic fellowship inspired Hannah to become civically engaged in her community, both within Salem State and beyond. After graduating, she served as the campaign manager for State Representative Manny Cruz and is currently a legislative aide after running a successful campaign.
Service Saturdays provide an additional opportunity to volunteer one Saturday a month, helping to develop meaningful and longstanding relationships with community partners and peers. Whether volunteering at Mack Park Food Farm harvesting vegetables and preparing soil for winter rye or at Newhall Field Community Farm preparing garden beds and harvesting herbs, students learn how organizations on the North Shore address food insecurity and sustainable farming.
These civic learning experiences prepare Salem State students to effectively collaborate within their communities and in the workplaces to address our most pressing social problems, effectively guiding them to become knowledgeable and active citizens engaged in democratic processes.
Moving Forward Giving Back: First Year Day of Service
- 220 students participate each year
- 12 percent more persisted to their junior year compared to non participants
- 10 percent went on to hold leadership roles on campus and in the community
- 86 percent believe it led to meaningful connections with classmates
- Since 2016, 56 community partners in seven communities have participated.