Colorado State University student Sarah Van Etten was recently accepted into the first cohort of the new Western Region Campus Compact Engaged Scholars Initiative. Van Etten, a doctoral student in the School of Education’s Education, Equity and Transformation specialization and coordinator of CSU’s Pets Forever program, was selected for her work and research interest pertaining to the impact of service learning and civic engagement on individuals and communities.
Building new communities
The Western Region Campus Compact is a nationwide nonprofit that focuses on community engagement and bridging university communities within California, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming. Their inaugural Engaged Scholars Initiative is aimed at developing, supporting, and connecting leaders from member institutions who can advance co-created knowledge, discussion, ideals, models of institutional change, and collaborative action to address societal issues.
Scholars were selected from a pool of candidates, all of whom serve various roles on their campuses that are connected to civic and community engagement. Van Etten applied for the program, and was then nominated by CSU Provost and Executive Vice President
Rick Miranda and College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences Dean Mark Stetter.
Van Etten is one of the first to be involved in the program, which presents in-person and online learning opportunities to strengthen scholars’ professional development, collaboration, and scholarship while enhancing local, regional, and national knowledge of civic and community engagement.
“My scholarly focus is on community engaged learning,” said Van Etten. “I am particularly interested in the intersection of lifelong learning, community and civic engagement, volunteerism and the non-profit community. I feel privileged to be a part of the first cohort of the Engaged Scholars Initiative.”
Learning through service
Community engagement and service learning have been an important part of Van Etten’s professional life. Before earning her master’s degree in public administration, she worked for nonprofit 501(c)(3) organizations for nearly 15 years. Through the lens of the nonprofit world, she focused on volunteerism and other forms of engagement that addressed how people come together to better serve their community.
Van Etten became interested in the EET program through her involvement with nonprofits, especially her research regarding their foundational features and contribution to service learning.
“One of the strengths of community engaged learning is that we are able to build relationships with people we might not otherwise have the chance to know,” she said. “I have seen the benefits of lifelong learning throughout my career in civic engagement and volunteerism. Even within informal, experiential spaces, meaningful learning can and does happen.”
Van Etten serves as the program coordinator for Pets Forever, a nonprofit community outreach program and inter-generational service-learning course offered through the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at CSU. The program supports low-income elderly and disabled Larimer County residents maintain ownership of their pets for as long as possible, while also improving the well-being of the pets and owners by providing help and needed resources.
Students involved in the Pets Forever course spend an hour in class every week, and five hours working directly with clients and their pets in the community.
“There are three learning goals for the course,” said Van Etten. “Learners gain an understanding of the unique benefits and characteristics of the human-animal bond, have the opportunity to engage with diverse and underserved populations and develop a sense of their role as community change agents.”
Van Etten has been able to connect her work with Pets Forever and her doctoral studies by synergizing what she learns in the classroom with what she teaches and evaluates in the Pets Forever course.
What’s to come
As Van Etten engages with the ESI program, she looks forward to developing new practices regarding community, and engaging in a larger discussion to grow her understanding of and involvement with service learning and her own studies.
“My goals for participating with the Engaged Scholarship Initiative are both professional and personal,” she said. “I see this as an amazing opportunity to expand my understanding of community engaged scholarship. I believe that I will contribute a unique perspective as a result of my community nonprofit experience and scholarly foundation in service-learning.”
The School of Education is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.