Learning Opportunities for Students

Renee Zientek

"The Center for Service-Learning and Civic Engagement works with the Social Science Scholars Program to provide opportunities for students to connect and serve with local community partners. Their service is aligned with both the needs of the partners and the learning goals of the Scholars Program. Students put into practice the theories and understandings they gain through the program by engaging with community partners and drawing on their T-shaped skill development."

Renee Zientek
Director, Center for Service-Learning and Civic Engagement

Service-Learning Engagement Programs


In partnership with campus and community, the Center for Service-Learning and Civic Engagement (CSLCE) advances community engaged learning at Michigan State University and prepares students for lifelong civic and social responsibility in an increasingly diverse and complex global society by providing community-based integrated learning opportunities. Two of the many programs supported by the Center are the Social Science Scholars Program and the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program.

Social Science Scholars Program


The Social Science Scholars Program is an intensive cohort learning experience, giving undergraduate students the opportunity to learn through seminars, research projects, off-campus study, overseas study, and internships. An important element of the program is a service-learning component that allows students to engage in service-focused, community-based learning opportunities, building personal and professional development and civic responsibility.

College of Social Science academic advisors work closely with students to craft an educational plan that is specifically suited to their individual interests and goals. Through the four years of the cohort, students are given ideal preparation for high-profile careers in the public or private sectors and for advanced degree programs at the nation's best universities. The program has been modeled on the characteristics that researchers have consistently found to appeal most to employers.

CSLCE designed and coordinates all of the service-learning and community engagement aspects of this program.

Jennifer Cobbina

"I was inspired to develop the program at MSU for a few reasons. First, most students who major in criminal justice plan to work in the field, yet have not had any contact with people directly affected by the system. Inside-Out provides an opportunity for college students to go behind the prison walls to reconsider what they have come to know about crime and justice. What I love about this course is that it offers students on campus experiential learning opportunities that allow them to humanize those involved in the criminal-legal system.

"Research has established that higher education is key to reducing reoffending and increasing social mobility—contributing to enhanced earnings, increased civic engagement, and stronger families. Inside-Out challenges those inside prison to place their life experience in a larger social context, to rekindle their intellectual self-confidence and interest in further education, and to encourage them to recognize their capacity as agents of change in their own lives, as well as in the broader community.

"Altogether, the contact that occurs behind prison walls, the depth of the discussion about crime and justice, the collaborative nature of the engagement, and the consideration of issues from the inside out, makes the course unique, and ultimately has provided a transformative learning experience for many of the students."

Jennifer Cobbina
Associate Professor, MSU School of Criminal Justice

Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program


The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program at MSU brings college students together with incarcerated individuals to study as peers in a seminar behind prison walls. The core of the Inside-Out Program is a semester-long academic course, meeting once a week, through which 13 to 18 "outside" (undergraduate) students and the same number of "inside" (incarcerated) students attend class together inside prison.

This experiential-based learning course is composed of various approaches and interdisciplinary modes of inquiry into crime, justice, and issues of social significance, with the goal of creating opportunities for both groups of students to have transformative learning experiences that emphasize both collaboration and discussions in issues of crime, justice, and social inequality. Originally developed at Temple University in 1997, the program now has the participation of over 10,000 students at 150+ colleges and universities in 37 states and two Canadian provinces.

At MSU, the program was developed by Jennifer Cobbina, associate professor in the School of Criminal Justice. She received the 2013-2014 Service-Learning and Civic Engagement Award for her work in developing the semester-long course, "Examining Social Issues Through the Prism of Prison," and continues to work with the Center for Service-Learning and Civic Engagement on faculty development.

Tools of Engagement


The Tools of Engagement (ToE) modules prepare students for community engaged learning. Learning about unversity-community engagement and developing community-based research and engagement skills helps students to prepare themselves to be engaged scholars. ToE has gained the attention of colleges and universities across the nation as an effective method for preparing students for community engaged scholarship. MSU continues to develop the modules and offer them in multiple formats to keep the content updated and the delivery relevant.

Graduate Certification in Community Engagement


Established in 2009, Michigan State University's Graduate Certification in Community Engagement is designed to help graduate and professional students develop systemic, respectful, and scholarly approaches to their community engaged work, preparing them for academic and professional careers that integrate scholarship with community engagement.

Graduate Certification in Community Engagement Presser

With approval from their Guidance Committee chairperson and University Outreach and Engagement, students tailor a program of study to strengthen their scholarly and practical skills in engaged research and creative activities, engaged teaching and learning, engaged service, and/or engaged commercialization activities.

To complete the Certification, students must show mastery of core engagement competencies, complete a 60-hour mentored community engagement experience, and write and present an engagement portfolio.

Aligned with national curricula and standards, the 20 core competencies include foundations and variations, community partnerships, critical reflection and thinking, community engaged scholarship and practice, approaches and perspectives, evaluation and assessment, communication and scholarly skills, and successful community engagement careers.

Students who fulfill all requirements receive an official notation on their academic transcript and a certificate of completion from MSU's Office of the Registrar.

The Graduate Certification in Community Engagement is an initiative of University Outreach and Engagement and the Graduate School.

  • Written by Amy Byle, University Outreach and Engagement

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