Dec. 14, 2015Vol. 46, Issue 3

Civic engagement: Enacting our values

One of the most important ways in which any institution expresses its mission, identity, vision, and purposes is a strategic plan. Such a document affirms not only the values that an institution espouses but also the actions that it declares to undertake to witness those values. The best strategic plans do more, though: They are rooted in the history and contexts that have shaped the institution, flexible to accommodate new factors and environmental changes, and focused on balancing change and continuity. Moreover, such plans seek clarity and intentionality in what they say about the institution and accountability and aspiration in what they direct the institution to accomplish.

I first became aware of Chico State’s Strategic Plan for the Future when I was appointed the University’s president in November 2003. And I appreciated the plan as sound and thoughtful. Not long after I arrived, though, I undertook a process to expand the document in two key ways. This resulted in a Strategic Plan Update in 2006, which added two new elements to the plan. First, a section on values that provided a sharper articulation of shared purposes and beliefs. And, second, a new strategic priority on sustainability and environmental awareness. These additions reflected several new contexts, including our 2005 campus Master Plan, the Governor’s Compact for Higher Education, the California and CSU budget conditions, the approaching 125th anniversary of our founding, and the fresh lens of a new president. 

: “…We will engage students, faculty, staff and community members through curricular and co-curricular experiences that actively involve them with the communities and the issues of the North State and beyond.” –From the new Strategic Plan priority on civic engagement

Now, more than 12 years since that first acquaintance with strategic planning at Chico State, I am very pleased to announce another addition: a new strategic priority—the plan’s seventh—on civic engagement.

This new priority follows the format and structure of the 2006 plan with a statement on how civic engagement reflects an institutional “belief” in what matters at Chico State, followed by a series of proposed actions to demonstrate that belief.

The belief statement is short and profound: “Believing in the importance of civic engagement for both individual fulfillment and the institutional commitment to serving the public good, we will educate generations of civically engaged, informed, and active students. We will engage students, faculty, staff and community members through curricular and co-curricular experiences that actively involve them with the communities and the issues of the North State and beyond.”

Civic engagement has deep roots at Chico State. In fact, they reach to the origins of the University when the city of Chico’s founder, John Bidwell, donated eight acres of his prized cherry orchard to persuade the California legislature to establish a new teacher’s college in the northern part of the state. Bidwell also challenged the citizens of Chico to raise funds to demonstrate to the legislature the community’s commitment to this undertaking. Said Bidwell, “Every citizen must consider it his duty to do everything he can for the cause of education and his community.” The citizenry rallied to the cause, raising $10,000, a high six-figure sum in today’s dollars. The University has been mindful ever since that we began both as a gift and as an act of civic engagement.

Giving back and paying forward, of course, are integral elements of the University’s service roles and responsibilities. And they, too, find expression in our Strategic Plan. Civic engagement, though, builds on the value of service, yet goes beyond it. It particularly focuses on the obligations of service and opportunities to improve the quality of civic life as engaged, informed members of one’s community—in fact, communities, for we are all members of local, regional, national, and global communities. We all belong to communities which can benefit from members who are inclined to be active and contributing, who value reason and respect, who seek consequential dialogue, who are committed to taking on difficult and vexing issues in a civil and thoughtful manner, and who recognize the privilege and responsibility to promote community well-being and the American democracy.

Our history and these understandings affect the many ways we prepare our students not just to take their place in our state’s workforce, but to contribute to the quality of civic life. We embrace the notion that a fundamental aim of education, especially for the college years, is not just to equip our students to make a good living but to prepare them to lead a good life. And a beautiful reflection of such goodness is a greater awareness of one’s place in the community and a desire to contribute to its betterment.

It is altogether fitting in this season of gratitude and giving that our University announces the expansion of our Strategic Plan to embrace civic responsibility, engagement, and service as fundamental elements of our value structure and hallmarks of the Chico Experience. And a special acknowledgment, in particular, to our University and community colleagues—Ellie Ertle, Thia Wolf, Zach Justus, Bill Loker, Angela Trethewey, Laurie Browne, Renee Renner, Sue Anderson, Michael Polsan, Farshad Azad, and Jovanni Tricerri—who not only crafted the language of the new priority and led many presentations both on and off campus, but who have long championed the University’s story as a place where civic engagement matters. 

Glad tidings of the season to all.

Paul J. Zingg


Art professor J. Pouwels exhibited at 1078 Gallery in Chico, “Interference,” in November.


Jerome Pouwels exhibited at 1078 Gallery in Chico in November.  Read More

“Holidays Are Here Again”

Holidays are here again

Student vocalists composed and recorded an original holiday song. Watch the recording.