Graduate Civic Scholars Program: Is it for me?

Graduate Civic Scholars Program: Is it for me?

The Graduate Civic Scholars Program is a professional development opportunity for all graduate students – doctoral and masters – at the University of South Carolina who are interested in community and public engagement.

In January 2017, the faculty directors and co-directors of this program – current and future – were interviewed to share insights about the program and why graduate students should apply and participate in this unique program.

Kirk Foster, PhD is assistant professor in the College of Social Work. He is one of the founding faculty members and the current faculty director for the 2016-17 cohort of scholars.

Allison Marsh, PhD is associate professor in history in the College of Arts and Sciences. She is the current faculty co-director and will serve as faculty director in 2017-18.

Lucy Annang Ingram, PhD is associate professor in health promotion, education, and behavior in the Arnold School of Public Health. She will serve as faculty co-director in 2017-18.

What is the Graduate Civic Scholars Program?

Dr. Kirk Foster: The Graduate Civic Scholars Program is an opportunity for graduate students from across campus to get out there together as a cohort to increase their capacity, expand their thinking, and engage their curiosity around community engaged work and also thinking about their work as having a public good. That is one of the hallmarks of the program and of civic scholarship.

Dr. Allison Marsh: It is important to note that this program is open to both masters and doctoral students.

Dr. Lucy Annang Ingram: If you are interested in really getting out into the field, seeing what you want to do in terms of research, teaching, or engaging a community and being impactful, this is a great opportunity for you. The program is the ultimate non-course. We are talking about that creativity and innovation in terms of how do we get students out into the field and engage with community members. So taking ideas and thoughts from the paper into the streets.

What is the value of the program to graduate students?

Dr. Marsh: I think there are many ways to express value. What I find most interesting is the interdisciplinary nature of this program. You have similarly minded graduate students from multiple disciplines all working not only within their discipline but also looking to see how they can apply what they are learning within their graduate school to a real world project. This is especially appealing to graduate students who may want to explore options outside of the academy. Maybe you are not interested in becoming a tenure track faculty or maybe you are interested in becoming a tenure track professor but your work is grounded deeply in the community.

Dr. Foster: One of the value added pieces if you will is the opportunity to interact with graduate students from across campus. This interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary nature of the program really is one of the hallmarks. What we have heard from students, many of whom sat around this table and had this conversation, is that the program is one of the first times that they had an opportunity to hear from other students who shared similar interests and concerns. They were coming from departments where community engagement and civic scholarship or public scholarship may not have been as prevalent. They were searching for a place to call home and searching for new colleagues. It was in the program that they really found a place to connect with other graduate students who were thinking similar things and shared some of the same struggles. Other cohort members that they could bounce ideas off of, form friendships with, and form potential collaborations with. And also to help them think differently about their own practice within their own discipline, whether this means you want to be a researcher, a practitioner, or an educator, how do we think about those from different disciplinary perspectives. That, I think is one of the greatest advantages of the civic scholars program, in addition to the stipend.

Dr. Marsh: The program is a great opportunity for professional development. You get to meet people from many different disciplines including students, faculty coming as guest lectures that let you see and be exposed to different ideas that might challenge your own thinking. We also have guests from the community here in Columbia and so you have the opportunity to talk with them and you never know how that will spark your own creativity and your own work when you are inspired by the work of others.

Dr. Ingram: Scholars may be able to gain something from that interdisciplinary network that really does infuse what they are already doing so they can propose projects that they have already been working on and this can be something that they do to support that.

Dr. Marsh: And their projects can be part of their thesis or their dissertation to help to augment it. We would love to see publications coming out of this or presentations or other things to help you as a graduate student start your career.

Dr. Foster: That is really one of the things that we encourage is to think about your current work and where you see yourself in the next phase of your life after graduate school and to consider a project, either independently or with one or two or three other civic scholars, that helps advance you in that particular area.

What do graduate students actually do in the program and what will be asked of them?

Dr. Foster: There are three seminars that students participate in over the course of the calendar year. The first series of seminars is an intensive summer session where we lay the principles of community engagement, working with communities, understanding the community, and looking at building a theoretical foundation for the work as you move forward. The fall and spring seminars meet monthly, and that’s an opportunity to develop particular ideas, we check in about projects, we invite speaker from across campus and out of the community to talk about issues that are very important to this kind of work. Then, there is the final presentation and currently that will be at Discover USC on April 21 this year.

Dr. Marsh: The seminar is also reflective of the students who are in it and even though last fall we had a rather contentious election and several of the students talked with me about how the new presidency may effect community engaged scholarship. As a result, our process this January is really going to be talking about politics and the role that plays. We listen to the students who are in the cohort and their concerns and craft a program that reflects their needs as well as our areas of expertise

Why should a graduate student apply to the program?

Dr. Ingram: If you are interested in stepping outside of the box and if you are feeling a little bit constrained in your current program of study and you want a new opportunity to explore some new ideas and innovation, maybe about social justice, this might be an opportunity for you so I encourage you apply.

Dr. Marsh: I would like to encourage people from all disciplines on campus to apply. Specifically, we hope that graduate students from the sciences and engineering will apply. I am professor in the history department, but I am actually a historian of technology. My first degree is in engineering and much of my community engaged work is with the engineering community.

Dr. Foster: If you have a yearning for the simple curiosity about how your graduate studies and how the work that you plan to do once you graduate has some sort of public good, how does is impact society, how can it make society even just a slightly better place to live, then the civic scholars program is a great place to come to explore those and to work with colleagues from other disciplines, to expand your thinking and expand your reach, and to understand better how all of us in our unique ways and our collective ways can impact the world for good.

The deadline for the Graduate Civic Scholars Program, 2017-18 is at 5 p.m. on January 31, 2o17. More information is available at and

Questions? Comments? Ideas? Contact Dr. Heather Brandt at

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