Peacebuilding Leadership, Civic Engagement, and College Students

By: David J. Smith, May 19, 2015

CCNCCE attendees consider peacebuilding leadership
CCNCCE attendees consider peacebuilding leadership

The annual international conference of the Community College National Center for Community Engagement (CCNCCE) is currently being held in Scottsdale, AZ.   Over 150 U.S. and international community college faculty are meeting starting tomorrow, May 20 and May 21 for CCNCCE’s 24th gathering.  This year’s theme is “Authentic Leadership Through Service Learning and Civic Engagement.”

Preconference workshops were held today, May 19.  I was invited to host one on “Building Peace and Community Wellness: Service-Learning and Civic Engagement Models.”  I had 18 faculty, administrators, and students from a range of community colleges in my session including from North Shore Commmunity College, Mesa Community College, St. Petersburg College, and Hudson Valley Community College.

My goal was to have participants consider approaches using peacebuilding awareness that can be applied to advance civic engagement with community college students.   I shared with them various interpretations of peace and conflict, emphasizing the importance of peace as “means” and conflict as an opportunity for positive change and opportunity, rather than something that is seen as destructive. Peace “means” relate to specific abilities and strategies that individuals can use to make change including dialogue, nonviolent action, education, and volunteer service.  Civic engagement centers on applying skills, knowledge and values that enable an individual to improve community life.  The model that I proposed was:

Conflict (a specific situation) + Peace (as “means”) = Civic Engagement

Using David Kolb’s Cycle of Experiential Learning, faculty and those working with students can tap students’ individual experiences to build their confidence in taking on leadership roles and advancing peacebuilding.

David Kolb's Cycle of Experiential Learning
David Kolb’s Cycle of Experiential Learning

I demonstrated how this might work by using various conflict based situations that community college students might find themselves in including a male volunteer fireflighter advocating for a LGBT female colleague,  a basketball player supporting a potential team member with a disability, an assistant manager in a diner confronting staff who have not been accepting of new Latino employees, a son confronting his father who is intolerant of African immigrants, and a student government member who argues that college space should be used for a Muslim student group.  The actual scenarios are attached below.

Adapting Kolb’s cycle, the model looks as follows:

1. A student engages in classroom learning designed to prepare him/her to deal with conflict (concrete experience)

2. A student experiences a conflict situation (such as the scenarios) (concrete experience)

3. Faculty/staff debriefs the student to learn about her/her experience (reflective observation, abstract conceptionalization)

4. The student uses this experience to engage in other experiences  including service learning centered on peacebuilding (active experimentation, concrete experience)

5. The faculty/staff member adjusts/modifies his/her course or activity to build in the student’s experience (active experimentation, concrete experience)

This model promotes leadership with college students, particularly those who are “leaders in waiting”- students who have not had the opportunity to engage as leaders.   In addition, it recognizes that students best learn through their own experiences: basic notions of constructivism and experiential learning.




A PLACE TO PRAY, 5.15.15


Published by David J. Smith

I am a career coach, consultant, and head of a not for profit - the Forage Center - that offers humanitarian education training. I also teach at George Mason University and Drexel University. A one time lawyer, I spent many years teaching in a community college where I was a Fulbright U.S. Scholar teaching in Estonia. I'm the author of Peace Jobs: A Student's Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace (IAP 2016). I've been married to my best friend for over 31 years and we have two well adjusted adult children who teach me something new everyday. I live in Rockville, Maryland.

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