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Civic Learning by Design

One of the skills liberal arts majors learn is how to become an engaged citizen. Faculty in the Department of Sociology are integrating civic responsibility in their courses and exposing students to the impact they can have on their communities.

The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) selected 22 departments from institutions across the country that are providing models for how to make civic learning and democratic engagement an expectation for all students who major in that discipline.

Not only did the UT Department of Sociology make the list, it was also one of nine departments selected as a featured case study in Peer Review, AAC&U’s quarterly publication on emerging trends and key debates in undergraduate education. The issue, “Civic Learning in the Major by Design,” was published in January 2018. Out of each of the nine programs, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is also the only research-intensive university to make the list.

“This recognition aligns with our mission as a land-grant institution to make a real impact on the community surrounding us,” says Jon Shefner, professor and head of the sociology department. His article, “Civic Engagement in and out of the Sociology Classroom,” addresses the question: How do we as a department try to contribute in the current political, social, and environmental moment?

Caryn McTighe Musil, senior scholar and director of Civic Learning and Democracy Initiatives and the Civic Learning in the Major by Design project, was impressed by the creativity and variety of ways that the selected departments used a civic lens to enhance the design of the major.

“These civic-rich departmental designs seek to increase students’ comprehension of their discipline’s investigations, enhance voice and agency, offer hands-on practice in collaboratively addressing challenging public problems,” McTighe Musil says. “They introduce students to moral, ethical, and civic responsibility issues that are likely to be part of their professional lives.”

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