Monday, March 31, 2008

New director has big plans for civic engagement

By Courtney Westlake

It’s only been about a month, but Kelly Thompson has big plans for her new position as the director of the Office of Student Volunteers and Civic Engagement.

“It’s a newer office; it’s only been around for a few years,” Thompson said. “Our whole goal is to foster volunteerism and civic engagement in the students. We want them to get involved early and get involved with community.”

Thompson came to her position at UIS from a strong background in and passion for civic engagement. She also has ties to the university having received her master’s degree in communication from UIS in 2002.

“So it's really such a good fit to bring my background in civic engagement to the university and help build the image of the university in the community,” she said.

One of the big projects Thompson is looking to take on next fall is called the American Democracy Project. It is organized through the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and will be co-sponsored by the offices of academic affairs as well as student affairs, she said.

“We are one of four member colleges in Illinois, and we hope between student affairs and academic affairs to foster some civic projects that students can become engaged in,” she said.

Thompson also feels very strongly about the service wing in Lincoln Residence Hall, which encourages and helps residents to become more engaged in campus and volunteer activities. Thompson is already actively building up the service wing and hoping to encourage those students into leadership roles and service activities both in groups and as individuals.

And there is an important reason for the push toward volunteerism and civic engagement, Thompson said.

“We do know that research shows that a more actively engaged student both on campus and in the community makes for a more successful student,” she said. “Students who are tying in their academic experiences with their out-of-classroom experiences are more likely to be successful in their academic careers as well as their careers following college life.”

The university has realized the significance of service in one’s life, so much so that it is “one of the guiding principles of our entire curriculum,” Thompson said.

“It really signifies, even in our strategic plan, the importance of making a difference in the world,” she said. “It’s important in an early stage of a student’s life to experience different volunteer and civic engagement opportunities so they can begin to understand 'what is my role in the world? what is my role here on the UIS campus?' and really learn from that, learn some leadership qualities and traits they can take with them beyond UIS.”