Small-Scale Civic Engagement with Big Impacts
By William O’Brochta, Louisiana Tech University
Students’ civic values, academic performance, social attitudes, and cognitive development significantly improve as a result of taking courses with civic engagement components (Yorio and Ye 2012). However, designing and guiding students through civic engagement experiences often requires substantial instructor time, financial resources, and university institutional support. This problem is particularly pronounced in comparative politics and international relations courses (Risley 2019), in which much of the discussion centers on international-travel–based learning opportunities and semester-long programs (McCartney 2006). This article describes a series of small-scale civic engagement activities applicable across subfields, versions of which can be relatively easily integrated into existing course designs without requiring extensive additional time and resources. These activities focus on local community engagement as a way to help students to more effectively relate political science topics to community issues, to develop tools to solve common public policy problems, and to increase their understanding of individuals with different backgrounds and life experiences. This article provides a jumping-off point for instructors who are beginning to teach civic engagement while simultaneously helping them avoid common pitfalls associated with short-term civic engagement projects (Tryon et al. 2008).