Amanda Wittman, named director of the John J. Binienda Center for Civic Engagement in June, hopes to enhance and expand the already strong connection Worcester State has built with the surrounding community.
“I’m very excited to connect with the Worcester community and contribute to the development of Worcester State as the leading public institution in Central Massachusetts,” she said in a recent interview.
Wittman said her background and experience in community engagement and civic education will guide her vision of the Binienda Center’s future. “It’s really important for universities to be involved in civic and community engagement and to connect students, faculty, and staff with community partners as a way to create positive change,” she said.
Wittman comes to Worcester State from Cornell University, where she served in several positions, most recently as associate director of the Engaged Cornell Lab, the research and assessment arm of Cornell’s extensive community engagement initiative. Previously, Wittman was director of academic and strategic initiatives in the national office of Campus Compact, an organization that fosters community engagement and involvement across the country
Wittman grew up in North Carolina and came to Worcester as an undergraduate at Clark University, where she received a bachelor’s degree in government (Phi Beta Kappa, with high honors) in 2002. She earned a master’s degree in college student services administration from Oregon State University in 2005, and a Ph.D. in politics and international relations from the University of Edinburgh in 2010.
Her new role as Binienda Center director marks a return to Worcester State for Wittman, who worked at the university from 2009 to 2010 as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer in the Center for Service Learning, which later became the Binienda Center for Civic Engagement. Her contribution was a year-long evaluation of the center to help with strategic planning.
A recent shift for the Binienda Center moved it from the Student Involvement area and placed it under the auspices of Academic Affairs. “I’m excited about the move to Academic Affairs because of the potential to support and deepen the great work already being done by faculty on campus,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to support faculty in developing engaged research and integrating community engagement into their courses.” Wittman said she will work with faculty to create courses and curricula that connect their disciplines to community issues and aims to facilitate partnerships between faculty and community organizations.
The Binienda Center will continue to build new resources for faculty and staff, but its focus will remain on student involvement, she said. “Community engagement is important for students because it helps them develop important skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and empathy,” she said. “It also fosters a sense of civic responsibility and encourages students to become active citizens who are invested in the well-being of their communities.”
As the university engages with the local community, it allows for an exchange of knowledge and expertise, she said. It’s important, however, for that exchange to be a two-way street. “Involvement in civic and community engagement allows students to connect with and learn from the expertise and assets that exist within the community,” she said. “It challenges the traditional notion of expertise and encourages students to see themselves as active members of their communities and, by engaging with community partners, students have an opportunity to make a positive impact and contribute to real and lasting change.”
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