Cataloging community engagement: A Q&A about efforts to secure formal recognition of the University's commitment to engagement

The University's Community and School Garden Program engages students in Tucson schools by using gardens as dynamic educational tools and STEM learning labs.

The University's Community and School Garden Program engages students in Tucson schools by using gardens as dynamic educational tools and STEM learning labs.

Melanie Hingle, associate professor, School of Nutritional Sciences and Wellness

Melanie Hingle, associate professor, School of Nutritional Sciences and Wellness

Julie Katsel, assistant vice president for community relations

Julie Katsel, assistant vice president for community relations

For the past year, a diverse working group has been leading an initiative to prepare an application for the Carnegie Foundation's Elective Classification for Community Engagement on behalf of the University community.

The group, whose creation was announced by President Robert C. Robbins in a message to campus, is led by co-chairs Melanie Hingle, associate professor in the School of Nutritional Sciences and Wellness, and Julie Katsel, assistant vice president for community relations.

In this Q&A, Hingle and Katsel talk about how this classification would formally recognize the impressive range of community engagement across the University and provide a comprehensive picture of that engagement to stakeholders throughout Arizona, the nation and world.

What is the Carnegie Elective Classification for Community Engagement?

Katsel: The classification is a way for colleges and universities in the United States to gain recognition for institutional commitment to community-engaged teaching, research, service and outreach. It is one of two "elective" classifications of U.S. higher education institutions sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, with the other being the Leadership for Public Purpose Classification. 

Hingle: Faculty and staff might be more familiar with the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, which classifies colleges and universities based on the students they serve, the type of degrees they award and their research activity. Carnegie has classified the University of Arizona as a Research 1 university, which is the classification given to institutions with very high research activity.

What does "community engagement" mean in this context, generally speaking?

Katsel: Using Carnegie's definition, community engagement is collaboration between a university and its larger communities – from local to global – for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity. As far as the purpose of community engagement, Carnegie sees it as having a very broad impact. That includes enriching scholarship and research and enhancing curriculum, teaching and learning. It also includes preparing educated and engaged citizens, strengthening democratic values and civic responsibility, addressing critical societal issues, and contributing to the public good.

What does community engagement look like, specifically, at the University of Arizona?

Katsel: The University is deeply embedded in communities in Southern Arizona, across the state and beyond. Community engagement is part of everything we do, whether those activities are related to teaching, research, service or outreach. Our community engagement is far-reaching and profound.

Hingle: We are already doing work that Carnegie defines as community engagement. It's consistent with our land-grant mission and fundamental to our University purpose: Working together to expand human potential, explore new horizons and enrich life for all. It's also a direct reflection of our core values: integrity, compassion, exploration, adaptation, inclusion and determination.

From start to end, the application process takes more than a year. Why did we decide to embark on this project?

Katsel: This is the first time we are applying for the Carnegie Elective Classification for Community Engagement. If we are successful, the designation would officially recognize the impact of our community engagement as we make strides toward fulling our University purpose. The application itself involves tremendous collaboration across the University. As first-time applicants, we must conduct a self-study of our community engagement work. The data collected through this process will allow us to identify and make visible all the community-engaged projects we do in teaching, research, service and outreach.

Hingle: By understanding the scope of our community-engaged work, we will develop more effective and equitable community engagement, and recognize individuals and programs across the University who make a difference in our communities. With greater insights and data, we can coordinate community engagement activities more effectively across the institution. For example, identify and share best practices, improve universitywide collaboration and foster institutional conversations about community engagement.

What impact will this work have on the University and our community partners?

Katsel: The learnings from this self-discovery process can lead to greater alignment and coordination, ultimately making engagement with the University smoother for our community partners and increasing our overall impact. At the same time, those directly involved in community-engaged work will make connections with colleagues doing similar work and enjoy recognition for all they are doing in our community.

Hingle: When everyone is more aware of the breadth and depth of our community engagement, we'll be able to tell the story of our community impact better, internally and with the larger community.

What is the process for applying to receive the classification?

Hingle: The application cycle opens every two years and final decisions are made by a national review committee convened by the American Council on Education. We began collecting data on community engagement activities in January. Between now and May 2023, when the application is due, we will continue to collect data and draft the application. And we'll, of course, continue to ensure that all campus and community stakeholders are aware of our progress.

Katsel: Successful applicants will be notified in December 2023 followed by a formal announcement in January 2024. If we receive the classification, we will need to demonstrate progress in order to maintain it.

Hingle: Regardless of whether we receive the classification, we anticipate publishing a final report and recommendations on our Community Engagement website in June 2023.

How have faculty and staff been involved in this effort?

Hingle: Faculty and staff have been involved in this effort since fall 2021. We have a multidisciplinary working group and community-engaged affinity group of colleagues across the institution that meet regularly and guide our work. We launched the Community Engagement website to make it easier for faculty and staff to participate in the application process and in our ongoing community engagement coordination.

Katsel: We are now actively seeking input from all faculty and staff involved in community-engaged work. We need a brief description of their community engagement project or collaboration, whether they are collaborating with a community partner on a course they are teaching, offering a community-based internship, helping their unit with a community service project, or any number of other forms of community engagement.

Hingle: We hope faculty and staff will complete the webform on the website to help us gather information about the teaching, research, outreach and service initiatives at the University. It should take no more than five or 10 minutes of your time. The data submitted through this portal will form the basis for what will eventually become a publicly available and searchable inventory of community-engaged work at University of Arizona. It would be helpful if that information could be submitted by Oct. 1.

Visit the Community Engagement website to learn more about how you can contribute to this effort or send an email to to connect directly with the team.

If you are a community-engaged faculty or staff member and would like to join the newly formed community-engaged affinity group, contact Julie Katsel at

Resources for the Media