When your department’s name aligns with one of Drexel University’s loftiest ambitions, it’s hard not to feel the pressure.
In 2010, the newly instated President John Fry announced his aspiration for Drexel to become the most civically engaged University in the country. Less than a year later, it was announced that the Lindy Center for Civic Engagement would receive a $15 million gift from its new namesake in support of its pivotal role in reaching Fry’s goal.
Katie Regetta, associate director of student and employee civic engagement for the Center, said she and her team take solace in knowing that there are other cogs in the wheel steering the University toward this objective — other vehicles include the Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships and the Office of University and Community Partnerships.
Despite this shared goal among entities, Drexel students may not know that the Lindy Center is their main gateway to meeting their own goals for civic engagement, whether they be for personal, professional, organizational or institutional reasons.
“We are trying to be the one-stop hub for students to be civically engaged and we can do that through a variety of different pathways,” Regetta said.
Here are the truths behind some common misconceptions about the Lindy Center — as well as exciting new announcements — that students should be aware of:
The Center’s academic initiatives stop at CIVC 101.
Many students’ first introduction to the Lindy Center is through the mandatory, one-credit CIVC 101 course which they must take freshman year. The course is run through the Center, and provides a civic foundation for students and introduces them to their engagement path while at Drexel.
“CIVC 101 is such an interesting first step for students because many are excited and they want to be part of that larger mission, but they may not have sought out an opportunity on their own,” Regetta said.
However, this course is just one part of one faction of the full scope of the Center’s offerings. It falls into their curricular opportunities, which also includes multiple community-based learning course options each term, providing engagement opportunities within and outside of students’ majors. For example, the College of Arts and Sciences offers multiple engaging and civically-minded courses each term, such as “Prison, Society, and YOU” and “Story Medicine.”
Additionally, there are co-curricular opportunities that do not offer academic credit, but which students may undertake for a host of other reasons.
“Either for fun or they want a resume booster or actual work volunteer experience,” Regetta said. “Whatever their motive is, they come to us through a whole lot of different programs, many of which we’re really trying to get the word out to get enrollment up.”
There are no incentives to being a civically involved student at Drexel.
The Lindy Center works with more than 100 partners on both curricular and co-curricular projects. Although making a difference through some of these organizations or for some of these causes may be enough for some students to get involved, others may be more inclined if there was also something in it for them.
For this, Regetta said the Center has been trying to create more incentives for involvement. Recently launched was Drexel’s new status as a certified organization of the President’s Volunteer Service Award, a national achievement award for domestic students who have completed at least 100 hours of service in the fiscal year. Along with a signed letter from the president of the United States, students who win the award will also be recognized at the Center’s year-end celebration. The Center is also launching a Drexel-equivalent award for international students.
Regetta hopes the award will help recognize civically engaged Dragons, even if they’re not going through the Center to do their good deeds.
“We hear all the time that students are doing this incredible work, volunteering hours and hours on end at CHOP or wherever it is,” she said. “But it’s hard to know what we don’t know. There’s so much work happening.”
Additionally, students may already be familiar with the Drexel Community Scholars program, which is a student leadership program where students provide 5-15 hours per week of either direct service or capacity building to a non-profit organization, and can do so on a by-term basis. If students qualify for the Federal Work Study program, they can also get paid for this service.
“That's a great incentive,” Regetta said. “There's absolutely nothing wrong with a desk job or any of those other jobs. But for students who are interested in this work but have bills, as I'm sure they all do, it's a great way to kind of say, ‘Yes we recognize this is important.’”
Community Service is the only kind of civic engagement.
For some students at Drexel, volunteerism isn’t an incentive, but a necessity. For example, students interested in applying to medical school must demonstrate some kind of volunteer experience.
“We have a few positions that are specifically in the health field that are incredibly coveted,” Regetta said. “That is a huge personal goal of mine, to get more health-related positions since there is demand.”
But for a lot of students, what brings them to the Lindy Center is simply an interest in a certain cause.
“They might be an engineering major interested in food insecurity or homelessness, whatever the topic area is,” she said. “And they’re a great group. They literally range from freshmen through Ph.D. candidates in any major imaginable. Very diverse across all aspects of life. [Our volunteers are] truly a microcosm of Drexel as a whole.”
For anyone interested in making an impact for impact’s sake, one key message that the Lindy Center promotes is that civic engagement goes beyond just dedicating hours of service. Being an engaged citizen also includes everything from voting to being informed to using skills to create something that will improve the lives of others.
“Everybody’s civic pathway is going to look different. For some people, it might be heavily rooted in service,” Regetta said. “For other students … it can look different. They don't have to go into the nonprofit field, they don't have to become a teacher or anything. They can find a way to be engaged that relates to their major.”
The Center only works with individual students.
And for some students, their civic pathway may include others. For these student groups or organizations, the Lindy Center can also be a resource. The opportunities that come into the Center for groups range from long-term to one-off commitments. And they have a lot of experience with this kind of matchmaking, so let them do the work for you!
“Rather than [organizations] reinventing the wheel and liaising with a nonprofit that maybe has staff changes or whatever the case is, they can come to us and we can just plug them right in,” Regetta said.
Another way that the Center is underutilized by student groups is the fact that their first-floor lounge area can be rented out by following their booking process on DragonLink. Regatta said individuals can also feel free to utilize the space, even if they’re not involved with the Center’s programming. It’s open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Student organizations can rent the space on evenings and weekends.
“Come use the space, study, have coffee, whatever,” she said. “It’s just a resource. We’re not expecting them to sign up for all of our programs while they’re here.”
Drexel can become the most civically engaged university in the country without student involvement.
Aiding the University’s goal of being the most civically engaged in the country is the fact that, according to Regetta, there is “no shortage of need” in our city, our region, our country and the world. And there is also no shortage of benefits to students in getting involved.
“There are causes [students] can learn about that they might not even realize are huge crises in our city and world,” Regetta said. “The people they’ll meet, I think it can just broaden horizons in a way that you can't always get from the classroom or a textbook.”
That said, Regetta also knows how busy students — particularly Drexel students — are. But the Lindy Center is here to try to make it easy for students to get involved and help the University reach its goal. If you’re not sure how to get started, take a look at the Center’s civic engagement database to find something that aligns with your interests.
“We don’t want students just living in a bubble never thinking beyond Drexel,” Regetta said. “And it's impossible in this society today. Everyone is talking, so we see it's an easier sell to get people at least thinking about this kind of work.”