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Chaparral 2017-2018: 26.3 Civic Engagement Spotlight

Civic Engagement Spotlight (November 2017)

As part of the 2017-2018 GCC campus-wide theme of Civic Engagement, the coordinators will spotlight campus activities throughout the year, that are aimed at increasing civic engagement at GCC. Please let us know what you’re doing in your classes or across campus by dropping us a note at and

Onward! Sandy Somo and Julie Gamberg


Civic Engagement Spotlight: College Scholars Program

Michael C. Harnett, Ph. D.
Professor of English, Humanities, and Psychology
and Scholars Program Director


How do you define civic engagement and why do you believe it is important?

I read Hoover’s excellent and articulate definition in the previous issue of Civic Engagement Spotlight, and I completely agree with it: Civic engagement is the deep involvement in matters and activities in our community. Being informed is fundamental to it, and as the foundation of civic engagement, compassion and a strong interest in the common good motivate the actions of the civic engagers.

My thinking about civic engagement is supported in part by my dissertation and subsequent motivational research. A key component and variable in my model of motivation as a shaper of competence is active engagement. Once a person is actively engaged, then that person devotes his or her full energy and attention to the given task, and may well thus do his or her best at it. So I see civic engagement as one kind of active engagement.

Civic engagement is clearly important to all of us. In education, we are all involved in an enterprise that is all about helping and supporting others, students and colleagues, as we engage ourselves in our innate and lifelong mission to learn and grow as people. We are not isolated but rather deeply bound by our common humanity. So looking out for others comes part and parcel with our very existence. It is what we do at our best.

What are the primary barriers to civic engagement here at GCC?

For the good people who teach and learn here at GCC, and at any college, the focus can tend toward self-centered motives and actions. We can become a collection of individuals working in separated offices and classrooms, and students can all too easily function as lone commuters who park, sit in class, and walk right back out; if we let that isolated condition continue, we may have deeper conversations with our mail carrier or checker at the market than those in classes and at the college. But that’s an exaggeration: the opportunities for learning here are enormous and many good people devote incredible energy and attention to the well-being of others.

How are you addressing the college theme of civic engagement this year in your work or class(es)?

In Scholars, a main part of our mission, and a component of all Scholars’ good standing, comes from active engagement in the program, through participation—active participation—in all monthly Scholars General Assemblies, weekly committee meetings, and planned Scholars events and activities throughout each semester. Scholars students must of course pursue their academic program requirements, but the other part of Good Standing in Scholars comes from continual activity and dedicated work for the good of all involved. Just so you know, Scholars has committees for Outreach, Community Service, Fundraising, Social Events, and Journal (more information about Scholars is available at the Scholars website at Each committee works to carry out its part of the Scholars mission to be a viable and valuable part of the GCC community. Our Scholars Cabinet is the driving force of this student-run program, and the Cabinet members, including the President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer, Ambassador, Webmaster, IOC Representative, Co-Directors of all committees, Media Coordinator, and Athletics Coordinator are some of the finest, most caring and compassionate people you’d ever want to know. They help set a conducive tone that the Scholars at large pick up and enact. 


Why is the above important?

Balance in life is essential. So there is clearly more to life than grades or even achievements; doing something meaningful forms a key measure of success in life. So the Scholars’ focus on helping and interacting with others seems quite important for sure. We see examples of selfless, intrinsically motivated action all the time. So many Scholars students engage in volunteer work that is not merely intended to pad their résumés or to earn credits for their standing in the program; they do them because they really want to help others and do some good. Encouraging that kind of outlook is certainly important.

What do you wish the GCC community knew about civic engagement?

One realization that should be more widely known might be that civic engagement is happening all the time. In spite of the negative assessments that often come out about students, faculty, and community colleges, not to mention higher education as a whole, there really is a lot of good for us to build on, and the capability and potential for being active and involved in all ways with our community are soaring and enormous. Many people right here at GCC don’t yet know about the many activities and groups that carry them out, so knowing about that as well would be good.

Is there anything else we should know about the Scholars Program?

How about what we need in Scholars for the future? If we are to continue and expand in our active and civic engagement, including our coordination, collaboration, and camaraderie, then we need more space and resources! Right now we make do with the spaces that we have, but with more than 200 Scholars, and more applying for Spring 2018, we could use a large meeting area. So far, we are lucky enough to have some space for that allocated for us in the near future.


Scholars Website:

Glendale Community College | 1500 North Verdugo Road, Glendale, California 91208 | Tel: 818.240.1000 | 
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