CMU Launches Nexus of Civic Engagement
By Mandi Semple
The Nexus of Civic Engagement, a newly renovated space in the Cohon University Center, will be a hub for expertise and resources to support the development and implementation of the vast array of civic engagement initiatives, strategies and community partnerships on campus, in Pittsburgh and beyond.
At CMU, civic engagement is omnipresent. It takes place in academic departments, in university research, in Student Affairs, the Leonard Gelfand Center for Service Learning and Outreach, the Center for Shared Prosperity and many other learning spaces across campus.
Just a few examples are the Dietrich College’s Pittsburgh Summer Internship Program, in which students intern as business analysts for the Pittsburgh Hispanic Development Corporation; Tech4Society, a student organization that works on social justice issues in partnership with local advocacy groups; Girls of Steel Robotics, an after-school outreach effort that has helped hundreds of girls achieve careers in STEM fields; and Rise Against Hunger, an annual university-wide event that packages thousands of meals to combat food insecurity around the world.
From community building and economic development, to social responsibility and direct service, Carnegie Mellon is a campus fully engaged in the work of solving real-world problems through partnerships with the community.
The Nexus of Civic Engagement, or the Nexus, will bring it all together.
“The Nexus of Civic Engagement will accelerate coordination among civic engagement efforts at CMU and support collaboration among graduate and undergraduate students, staff, faculty, and community partners, whether they are located here in Pittsburgh or across the globe,” said Liz Vaughan, associate dean of Student Affairs, director of the Office of Student Leadership, Involvement, and Civic Engagement (SLICE), and the inaugural James and Sharon Rohr Director of Civic Engagement.
“ ... the Nexus will uncover opportunities for sustainable, reciprocal partnerships and ... connect the campus community to meaningful and impactful civic engagement opportunities.” — Liz Vaughan
Established in 2019 by former Chairman of the CMU Board of Trustees Jim Rohr and his wife Sharon, the directorship’s goals include consolidating civic engagement resources for CMU students, faculty, staff and community partners.
“As a singular CMU entry point for our community partners and the primary resource for the full range of civic engagement efforts for the CMU community, the Nexus will uncover opportunities for sustainable, reciprocal partnerships and more effectively connect the campus community to meaningful and impactful civic engagement opportunities,” Vaughan said.
Sierra Kanofsy and Nisha Fernandes, lead coordinators for Partners Allied in Civic Engagement (PACE), agree with Vaughan.
“I am looking forward to utilizing the Nexus for Civic Engagement because it will be a space for collaboration, creativity and communication for civic engagement initiatives,” said Fernandes, a sophomore studying business administration and statistics and data science. “I am excited that students will have a central place to ask questions, learn more about, and get involved in the events that PACE, other service organizations and community partners coordinate.”
Kanofsy, a junior majoring in civil and environmental engineering, is excited about a dedicated civic engagement space on campus.
Students work in the new Nexus of Civic Engagement in the Cohon University Center.
“I think having a centralized space will encourage more civic engagement work on campus while letting us bounce ideas off one another to come up with more impactful projects,” she said. “Students will have a location to come and work on projects in the community and get assistance from upper-class students and mentors who may have worked on something similar in the past.”
The Nexus of Civic Engagement is centrally located on the first floor of the Cohon Center, adjacent to the recently renovated SLICE office. The space offers technology-enhanced workspaces, a conference room and staff offices, all dedicated to campus-wide civic engagement efforts and for use by CMU’s community partners. This new campus space will be staffed by passionate, trained student leaders, called Civic Engagement Ambassadors.
“I am excited that students will have a central place to ask questions ... and get involved in events that PACE, other service organizations and community partners coordinate.” — Nisha Fernandes
Kimberly Piatt, director of experiential learning in Dietrich College and manager of the Pittsburgh Summer Internship Program, is looking forward to using the space. Piatt is also a member of the newly formed Campus Civic Engagement Network, a group of faculty and staff that will guide the vision, direction and operation of the Nexus.
“For Dietrich College in particular, the Campus Civic Engagement Network has already been useful in helping us connect with community partners interested in hosting summer interns through the Pittsburgh Summer Internship Program,” Piatt said. “In fact, last summer, we added more than 20 new nonprofits to our list of existing host sites.”
Ken Hovis, a faculty member and assistant dean in the Mellon College of Science (MCS), and a member of the Campus Civic Engagement Network, believes the Nexus will be transformational.
“CMU is chock full of students and faculty who work as hard in the community as they do inside the classroom, but often without knowing about other initiatives or internal and external partners who they can partner with and learn from,” Hovis said. “The Nexus will be the link that connects these many efforts across the university.”
Hovis said growth as a citizen is a pillar of the MCS curriculum. He predicted the Nexus will allow students to learn, connect, engage and share in new ways as part of their overall CMU experience and growth as individuals.
The Nexus offers spaces you can reserve and spaces available on a first-come, first-served basis to support a wide-range of civic engagement activities, such as meetings and events with nonprofits and elected officials, presentations, lectures or panel discussions, retreats and service projects. There is even consideration for hosting service-learning or community-engaged courses, recitations and teaching assistant office hours at the Nexus.
“It [the Nexus] symbolizes our commitment to the role civic engagement plays in shaping the CMU experience.” — Gina Casalegno
“I am also looking forward to working with the other service partners and organizations on campus,” Fernandes said. “PACE is always looking to facilitate partnerships between Pittsburgh nonprofits and CMU organizations, and the Nexus will give us that opportunity.”
Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Gina Casalegno said the Nexus builds on CMU’s decades-long commitment to regional impact and service as part of the student experience.
“The Nexus of Civic Engagement is more than a physical space. It symbolizes our commitment to the role civic engagement plays in shaping the CMU experience and demonstrates the university’s commitment to strengthen our collective efforts to create social change,” Casalegno said. “I am grateful to Liz Vaughan and the civic engagement network of faculty, staff and students committed to shining a spotlight on the work that happens every day at CMU to make the world a better place.”