Celebrating Engagement

Tommy Pham | New University

Tommy Pham | New University

The Department of Civic & Community Engagement celebrates UCI service in the community.

Celebrating students, faculty and staff who are actively engaging the community to make a difference, the Department of Civic & Community Engagement held their fourth annual “Engage UCI” day of engagement last Thursday, May 9. Students, faculty, staff and community members filled Pacific Ballroom D for an afternoon of awards, speeches and informational sessions on community service projects in which UC Irvine is currently involved.

Guests at the event were given the opportunity to share their service experience with others and were recognized for their achievements.

“Our office is actually relatively new here on campus,” Zahra Ahmed, the director of The Office of Civic & Community Engagement for UCI, said. “[The Office of Civic & Community Engagement] was started through a 2009 report and one of the recommendations from the report was to create an office to try and help, no. 1 provide the current community engagement activities that are going on all across campus with support and also identify any gaps and areas where we could be inserted in working with students, faculty, staff and community partners to create projects and initiatives that the community needs.”

Tommy Pham | New University

Tommy Pham | New University

The theme for this year’s event, “Be the Change: Engaging Our Communities Through Advocacy,” was not a foreign concept to guests, who were all recognized for their involvement in campus-community projects.

The keynote speaker, Kelly Thornton Smith, who is also the founder of the Center for Living Peace, encouraged guests to continue being the change that they wish to see in the world, quoting famous philosopher and activist Mahatma Gandhi.

“Today I’m just speaking to the choir because you’re already being the change you want to see in the world,” Smith said. “When we opened our doors [three years ago], our most frequent question was — are you a furniture store?”

Audience members laughed as Smith displayed an image of an event where the center was filled with trees, furniture and candles. The series on “Living Peace” has drawn significant notoriety since it began three years ago with a speech from actress Charlize Theron, but the center has faced difficulties in fostering supporters.

“I have to say, three years ago people weren’t talking about peace as much as they are now,” Smith said. “We were kind of a Noah’s ark … we had to build it, but at first they didn’t come.”

Smith passionately spoke about the benefits of service and the purity of changing the world for the better — in a mode of play. Connecting to an allusion from a dream she had of her children’s’ playroom, Smith used the metaphor of children at play to show that pure energy of doing what you love and embracing your passions can change the world.

Tommy Pham | New University

Tommy Pham | New University

 

Speaking about how service changes the lives of individuals, Smith said, “It connects you, not just to yourself but to your family, to your community. And when you have that connection and support you have much greater success.”

Smith also urged guests to find positive energy and the fun in service to sustain their impact.

“I always remind everyone: when it feels like there are so many obstacles and people think you’re a furniture store, if it’s not fun let’s find a way to make it fun. Everything can’t be easy, but even when it’s not, how can you enjoy the ride and have fun with it?”

The event continued with an awards session commemorating current and future leaders in the community before finishing with a commencement ceremony for undergraduates graduating with minor in Civic & Community Engagement. The minor, which began as another request of the 2009 report, is in its fourth year and has students graduating from all four classes.

Bringing the event to a close, professor of Anthropology and Director of the Minor in Civic & Community Engagement, Paula Garb, discussed the importance that engagement has for UCI.

“We believe that a research university is only as good as its civic engagement,” Garb said. “That’s the real sign of a grand research university — to do research that actually makes a difference.”