Carnegie Foundation Lauds BVU for Community Engagement

Buena Vista University is one of 52 private colleges in the United States honored for commitment to service. The motto “Education for Service" remains a focal point of BVU's Strategic Plan.

On a recent afternoon, members of Buena Vista University’s Education for Service Scholars cohorts join faculty and staff in the Geisinger Student Leadership Center on campus.

Just outside the space, Dr. Ashley Farmer-Hanson, BVU assistant vice president of Student Success/director of Community Engagement, details the enjoyment—and challenges—posed in completing an application for the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Those people gathering in Geisinger Student Leadership Center? They join forces to distribute food at a food pantry. “There will likely be a line already formed when we show up to distribute the food,” Farmer-Hanson says. “People are in need.”

“Community engagement isn’t merely something we say we do. It is something ingrained in the culture of the University.”

Joshua Merchant

Carnegie Foundation seal

On multiple occasions each week, if not every day, a scene such as this plays out at Buena Vista University, an institution established upon the motto, “Education for Service.” The phrase remains a focal point for BVU’s Strategic Plan, as well as its scholarship and work, resulting in the University earning the 2020 Carnegie Community Engagement Classification, one of 52 private colleges across the U.S. hailed for this level of commitment and activity.

“Clearly, higher education institutions are making significant strides in finding ways to engage with community partners, building on community assets, and addressing a wide array of community challenges,” the Carnegie Foundation notes. “There is much to celebrate.”

Farmer-Hanson sheds a tear upon hearing the news for her alma mater. The Carnegie classification lasts for 10 years. It was last received by BVU in 2010.

“We moved our Office of Civic Engagement to a central location, offering more visibility,” Farmer-Hanson says, citing examples of the University’s daily pledge to serve. “University leaders have spoken about and helped institutionalize service at BVU. We’ve shown how we demonstrate community engagement across our institutional culture.”

Beyond staffing food pantries and celebrating a 106-year-old campus tradition, Buenafication Day, with service efforts throughout and beyond the community, there are smaller, less public examples. High school and middle school teams, for example, earn free admission to any BVU athletic contest they wish to see, a practice not employed by many institutions.

Ashley Farmer Hanson
Dr. Ashley Farmer-Hanson

“Community engagement isn’t merely something we say we do,” says BVU President Joshua Merchant. “It is something ingrained in the culture of the University.”

Since its last Carnegie classification, BVU created the Education for Service Scholars program featuring cohorts of 10 students per year who devote 300 hours of AmeriCorps service to local entities. A full-time staff member is dedicated to the program, while a full-time AmeriCorps member directs additional engagement efforts for students, faculty, and staff.

“As we recruit students, faculty, staff, and new administrators, we make it known we seek individuals who commit to the community and will be active in serving the community,” Merchant says.

“I’m confident we serve better than we did, even in 2010,” says Farmer-Hanson, a 2007 BVU graduate. “Our service is incredibly intentional, all throughout the year.”