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Continuing the Conversation

Students pictured in a Zoom breakout room during a Community Conversations Project event

The Honors and Scholars Village and Honors and Scholars Programs have a long history of discussion-based learning as part of their curricular and co-curricular engagement with students. Honors and Scholars Village Fellows Lily Morrell and Graham Burhman wanted to resurrect and expand such an initiative led by former Scholar-in-Residence Sheryl Cornett.  If not for a fortuitous meeting between Scott O’Leary, the director of Honors and Scholars Village, communications professor Jean Goodwin (Communications) and Janice Odom of the Caldwell Fellows, these student-discussions just may have remained an Honors and Scholars Village initiative and tradition. Instead, it led to a trip to Elon University for the Civic Engagement Institute that created a partnership that not only spans the Division of Academic and Student Affairs, but the wider campus community. Almost a year later, this steering committee of staff and faculty supports a dynamic team of student volunteers who lead what is now the Campus Conversations Project (CCP).

Following research into myriad approaches for civic conversation and a pilot project in the Honors and Scholars Village and Caldwell Fellows, the faculty and staff advisory group adopted the Living Room Conversations (LRC) model for their discussion series. The LRC ‘Conversation Agreements’ set grounding guidelines for civic conversation and their curriculum resources provide a wide range of meaningful topics. Twenty students have become trained CCP facilitators, often partnering with student-staff Fellows in the Honors and Scholars Village. Through fall 2020, they led 17 virtual conversation events with 340 participants. Topics included: More Curious, Less Furious; Exploring Race & Ethnicity; To Vote or Not to Vote; Police and Community Relations; Alone – Solitude or Isolation; Anxiety and the Election; The American Dream; and Political Bridge Building.

Partnerships/hosts from spring and fall have included the Honors and Scholars Village/Honors and Scholars Programs, Caldwell Fellows, NC State Libraries, Campus Republicans, Campus Democrats, Engineers Without Borders, VOICE – Veterinarians as One Inclusive Community for Empowerment, Braver Angels, and the Chancellor Leadership Development Program (Shelton Leadership Center). 

Committed to the principles of civic conversation, faculty in the Department of Communications provided students in four sections of COM 110, Public Speaking, with a CCP experience and students in HON 293-005, Feelings of/from Technology, led their own peer conversation on Relationships in the Digital Age after participating in earlier conversations. Survey comments from the 77 participants in the COM 110 courses affirmed its value:

The CCP addresses a critical social need and promotes civic engagement as a value of higher education. North Carolina Campus Compact has awarded CCP a civic engagement to fund communication resources and implementation costs to help to elevate the mission of CCP, recognizing initiatives like CCP as a priority in their work. The CCP is planning to expand its impact on campus in the coming months through additional student facilitator training and conversation events with various campus partners. Lily Morrell, who has been an active student volunteer for the CCP since the beginning, is now working as part of the Provost’s Professional Experience Program with professor Goodwin to ensure the continued growth of the CCP.

To learn more about the Campus Conversations Project and how to become involved, visit https://oe.ncsu.edu/ccp/.

This post was originally published in DASA.

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