Carleton has a long history of working with the local community, whether through students creating and sustaining active volunteer programs, courses partnering with local organizations to incorporate community projects and knowledge into the pedagogy, or faculty conducting dynamic community-based and community-driven research and scholarship.

The CCCE strives to make connections between the work students do in the community and the work they do in the classroom, weaving theory with practice. The Center as it exists today was formed in the 2011 merging of three centers/projects — Acting in the Community Together (ACT), Academic Civic Engagement (ACE), and Public Scholarship.

1980s: The Early Years

Sayles Hill

Acting in the Community Together (ACT) was founded in 1985 by Julia O’Grady ’85, who brought together three service organizations — Project Friendship, Volunteer for Youth, and Faribo Project—and created the umbrella organization of ACT. The efforts of O’Grady and others more than quadrupled the number of Carleton volunteers in the community at the time, from around 60 to 250.

With the successive imprint of each new coordinator, including Rebecca Breuer ‘86 and Greg Rhodes ‘87, the Center continued to expand, so that by the end of the decade, the Center ran 24 active programs and was considered a model community service program for other colleges across the country.

In 1987, Greg Rhodes ’87 secured the Center’s first computer and car (donated from Dokmo Ford Chrysler in town.)

1990s: Rapid Expansion and Clarifying the Mission

The first five school years of the 1990s saw growth in the number of programs and volunteers for ACT, additional external recognition for the exemplary work of the Center, as well increasing attention to the particular ethic of community engagement within the Center.

Spring Break Away! With Habitat for Humanity, 1990/1991

In 1990, Carleton was named the Hub Campus for Minnesota by the Campus Outreach Opportunity League (COOL), recognizing ACT as a leading community service program among the state’s colleges and universities. That same year, ACT Coordinator Heather Grace Harney invited all previous Coordinators to campus to draft the Center’s first mission statement.

Over the next few years, the Center increased its focus on training volunteers and leaders, the quality of the volunteer experience, and forming sustained partnerships. By the first year of the 2000s, ACT had 37 active programs, 72 Program Directors, 7 Student Coordinators, and Volunteers who logged over 11,000 hours of volunteering.

ACT expanded quickly, creating many new opportunities for connection between students and community members:

  • 1990: ACT inaugurated the Into The Streets new student volunteer day and the Spring Break Away! trip with Habitat for Humanity.
  • 1994: The first annual Pre-Frosh Service trip was held, allowing eight first-year students and five student leaders to spend five days in the Twin Cities doing various service projects.
  • 1997: The America Reads Program, which has since become America Reads and Counts, was started by Mike Jernigan ‘97, ACT’s first VISTA Coordinator.

2000s: Investments in Curricular and Co-Curricular Engagement

ACT continued to expand in the first decade of the 2000s, with the 2005 addition of an ACT Educational Associate position, a 5th-year intern position supporting the ACT Coordinator, and in 2007, the hire of Diana Dargen as the first Community-Based Work-Study Coordinator, a position coordinating Northfield Reads and Counts tutoring program and various student work positions at local non-profit agencies. In this time, ACT also solidified the place of community-based learning at Carleton.

In 2000, the College had received the first of several grants directed at its Service Learning—later, the Academic Civic Engagement (ACE) program. ACT Coordinator Candace Lautt had advocated strongly for ACE and significantly increased its profile at Carleton.

Finally, inspired by an outside assessment funded by Minnesota Campus Compact, a group of faculty submitted a proposal to the Dean of the College for a position on the academic side of the college to organize academic civic engagement efforts. This half-time position was approved and filled in 2008 by Professor of Sociology Adrienne Falcon.

First Lighten Up!

In 2000, ACT held the first Lighten Up!, a community garage sale in which students donate unneeded items before leaving for the summer, the sale of which raises money to support local nonprofits. Today, Lighten Up! still continues, diverting 25 tons of materials from the landfill and raising funds (over $37,000 in 2019) for local organizations.

In 2007, the Dean of Students accepted a proposal submitted by a group of Student Coordinators to make ACT its own department within student life, making Laura Riehle-Merrill the first Director of ACT. In the summer of 2008, ACT moved into Sayles-Hill 150, the office suite previously occupied by Campus Activities; for the first time, the entire ACT staff was housed in one center.

CAC Food Shelf 2003
Community Action Center Food Shelf, 2003

2010s: Bridging ACT & ACE through the CCCE

In Spring 2011, President Poskanzer and Carleton’s senior leadership team made the decision to move ACT from the Division of Student Life to the Dean of the College Office, creating The Center for Community and Civic Engagement (CCCE). In this year, Falcón (Director of ACE) and Riehle-Merrill (Director of ACT) drafted a common mission and values statement to represent the new Center’s integration of ACT, ACE, and Public Scholarship.

In 2017, Carleton decided to create one director-level position to provide unified leadership to the center, further bridging and integrating curricular and co-curricular engagement. Amel Gorani was hired as the inaugural director of the CCCE.

Most recently, in 2020, Sinda Nichols became the second director of the center. She introduced a new staffing structure organized around the relationships that drive the center’s work, with the goal of further unifying the center and improving access to the Center for students, partners, faculty, and staff. This staffing plan also further formalized the role of engaged scholarship as part of the center’s work.

Learn more about the modern-day CCCE on the Communications page and in our Executive Summary the CCCE At a Glance documents.

Into the Arb, Cowling Arboretum, 2018