UVA Wise CONNECTS: A Center for Community Engagement

Who are we and what do we do?

The University of Virginia’s College at Wise recognizes the value of service to the community of Southwest Virginia, the nation, and the world. The College is in the process of strengthening its liberal arts core to make it a regional leader in engaged learning and community service. As detailed in our Goals and Vision Statement, the College plans to expand its outreach and service efforts within our local community and region.

“UVA Wise CONNECTS affords students and faculty the opportunity to engage in meaningful service learning projects. These opportunities develop civic engagement skills while students gain experience working with members of our SWVA communities.”  – Donna Henry, UVA Wise Chancellor

UVA Wise CONNECTS (which stands for Community Oriented Networks for Negotiating Engaged and Collaborative Teaching Strategies) is one way we are fostering a stronger relationship between the College and the surrounding community. Our primary purpose is to encourage faculty to engage their classes with the community of Wise and the region through revising their current courses to have an Academic Community Engagement (ACE) component.

What is ACE?

Academic Community Engagement (ACE) is a teaching method that combines community engagement with academic instruction. According to the National Service Learning Clearinghouse, this type of teaching method “integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities.” The ACE initiative encourages students to use the skills, knowledge, and dispositions learned in the classroom to collaborate with community partners in making a difference in society.

Examples of ACE Experiences

  • Biology students plant trees and grasses with a conservation group.
  • Education students tutor in public schools under the mentorship of master teachers.
  • Art students create a hands-on art program for one of the local schools, hospitals, or shelters.
  • Administration of Justice students work on an anti-bullying campaign with one of the local high schools.
  • Business students create a tax-preparation and counseling program for low-income individuals and families.
  • Political science students work on voter registration and try to increase the voter engagement of the community.

Benefits for Students

Gaining an Academic Community Engagement (ACE) designation for your course(s) is both easy and beneficial. Research shows that courses that include community engagement “provides students with opportunities to synthesize, integrate and apply their knowledge. Such experience makes learning more meaningful and ultimately more useful because what students know becomes part of who they are.”

Research on the benefits of Academic Community Engagement (ACE) show that integrating this teaching style enhances students’ academic performance, positively affects their GPA, writing skills, critical thinking, self-efficacy, leadership, and future commitment to engaging in community service needs.

Benefits for Faculty

  • ACE First Time Stipend: If you are transitioning a course for the first time to have an ACE component, you can apply for an ACE First Time Stipend, which supports and encourages faculty changes to their existing course curriculum.
  • Research/Publishing Opportunities: There are many avenues through which to publish research relating to the integration of community engagement and curriculum. We also have the ACE Researchers initiative held every academic year to encourage and assist ACE faculty in publishing material related to ACE courses.

Benefits for Community Partners

Research on the benefits of Academic Community Engagement (ACE) show that campus-to-community partnerships and relationship-based collaboration enhances social cohesion in addition to a number of related impacts:

  • College students have a direct impact on shaping the attitudes and services of professionals in the community as well as their clients, such as youth and the elderly;
  • Service learning helps to organizations to sustain and enhance their organizational capacity, and, as they become more knowledgeable about their community, the learning curve for new graduates who have done service learning as students is shortened;
  • Community partners report that teaching students about the work they do is enriching and affirms the mission and goals of their work. Many community partners also find their involvement with colleges and universities to add prestige to the reputation of their services;
  • Additional impacts include increased community capacity, investments in social justice, a mutual sense of transformational learning, and increased commitment to citizenship and community responsibility.

Complete the community partner survey.

ACE Courses Require:

  • The faculty member identifies one or more course objectives that students will address through their ACE experience.
  • A statement regarding the importance of community engagement is included in the syllabus.
  • The faculty member requires a reflection assignment about the ACE experience that is evaluative and graded as indicated in the course syllabus and included in the final course grade.
  • For every one-hour of course credit, each student should dedicate a minimum of three hours to the ACE experience. For example, a 3-credit course would require a minimum of 9 hours on the ACE experience per student per semester.

Application Deadlines

While UVA Wise CONNECTS will accept applications and renewals any time during the academic year, there are definite deadlines if the professor wants the ACE designation to appear on the Registrar’s official schedule of classes:

  • Spring Courses – August 15
  • Summer Courses – November 15
  • Fall Courses – January 15

For more information Contact

Heather Evans

Christa Moore

cjm4vx@uvawise.edu