Center for Civic Engagement


Ever since the establishment of a campus Young Men’s Christian Association (Y.M.C.A) chapter in 1879, service has been a fundamental pillar of Davidson College’s identity. The college’s Statement of Purpose clearly elucidates this devotion to inspire service, not only within the confines of the college, but throughout the greater community: “The primary purpose of Davidson College is to assist students in developing humane instincts and disciplined and creative minds for lives of leadership and service” (Statement of Purpose, Davidson College). Since the establishment of the Y.M.C.A., service at Davidson has grown into a campus powerhouse with many capabilities to aid students and to serve a broader community.

According to The National Service-Learning Clearinghouse, “The early to mid 1980’s saw a resurgence of interest in campus service and service- learning, with a national initiative to promote service among undergraduate students” (History). The institutionalization of service at Davidson in 1987 reflects this national impetus to expand the curriculum beyond the confines of the classroom. Coupled with this national drive to engage in service, Davidson continued to expand its commitment to local and national organizations, service through the classroom, and the development of a capable office. Ruth Pittard, the former assistant dean of community service comments on this evolution: “We took a small intern-run service program and built a program equal to the mission of the college and set the state for the integrated civic engagement center that now exists. I feel like we planted seeds that grew into the strong visionary program that now exist.” With the constant progression of institutionalized service at Davidson, students, faculty, alumni, friends and the entire Davidson community continue to engage in the world in thoughtful and selfless ways.

An old image of Morrison Hall

Morrison Hall - 1900's

1879 to 1991

The Y.M.C.A.

The first record of community service at Davidson College is of the Y.M.C.A. This organization remained the core of community service efforts on campus until long after the Community Service Office was established. This religious and service organization first became a part of Davidson in 1879, and by 1889 the organization had its own building, making it the first Y.M.C.A. organization in the south to have its own space. The organizations initial intent was to cater to student’s religious needs and help freshmen adjust to college life (“Y.M.C.A – History at Davidson”).

In 1980, the Y.M.C.A. was re-named the Young Student Service Corps (YSSC) and its goals were reestablished to “promote individual and community growth through service and responsibility” (Silver III, Hayden). During this time, the Y.S.S.C. oversaw students running a community center, hosting crop lunches, volunteering at a local day care center, tutoring at Davidson Elementary, promoting Nuclear Arms awareness, running a program for senior citizens, voter registration and more (Silver III, Hayden). The organization still endures and has undergone several more name changes. From the Y.S.S.C. it became Reach Out in 1993, then United Community Action 2000, and finally the Center for Civic Engagement in 2011. The YMCA/YSSC, was the student-initiated precursor to the Community Service Office, now Center for Civic Engagement.

Dr. Kuykendall posing holding a yearbook

Dr. Kuykendall

President John Kuykendall’s Contribution

While this student led initiative was growing and changing, the administration began to demonstrate a desire for community service to be an institutionalized part of Davidson College. The Davidson College commitment to service is generally traced back to the presidency of Dr. John Kuykendall ’59 (1984 to 1997). From the moment he entered the campus community – his inauguration day – he wanted service to a bigger part of the Davidson community.

In his inauguration speech, President Kuykendall said, “I believe that we have the intention that the education that Davidson provides should be invested for the common good. Education in our tradition is – or should be – an act of servanthood” (Kuydendall, John). He went on to call Davidson students to action:
The message is servanthood: servanthood in the classroom and in the courtroom and in the wards of hospitals and in the corridors of power… The graduates of Davidson College in the years to come, as in the years now past, will be able to make a difference in this world to the extent that they are willing to give of themselves (Kuydendall, John.).

Due to other college business, it was not until 1987 when President Kuykendall began to put his desire for service on campus into action, assembling a task force of college faculty and administration to examine current service at Davidson and assess whether or not it was fulfilling its commitment to the local and larger community. The task force met 4 times over the next year, analyzing current student and faculty/staff participation in service, service at other similar institutions, and discussing issues such as having a mandatory service component to the curriculum, and appointing a student intern. In its final report, the task force came to the conclusion that service needed to be institutionalized at Davidson in order to give it “contemporary significance and to demonstrate that service [was] an integral part of liberal learning in a Christian context” (Task Force on Service).

The Community Service Program

Along with encouraging the integration of service into the classroom, one of the most influential pieces of the task force’s final report was the suggestion of a service intern to promote service activities and implement the other task force recommendations. In 1988, Caroline Craig ’88 was appointed the first service intern. This position was to rotate every two years, and marked the establishment of the Community Service Program. It provided the college its first dedicated employee to guide and direct students in service opportunities through the greater community. In 1990, Beth Duttera ’90 became the next intern. In spring of 1991, she released an annual report about the program. At that point the college, overseen by the Community Service Program, had over 600 students participating in service weekly, through the Y.S.S.C., Patterson Court Council (P.C.C.) and specific projects. Duttera’s goals were to write several “how to” manuals regarding service for student use, to develop more resources in the broader community, help out more with the Bonner Scholars Program and work towards creating a service-learning program (Duttera, Beth).

The program has grown immensely since this time, but the service intern position laid the foundation for what the Center for Civic Engagement is today. Since Craig, 12 young interns have served the college in overseeing community service.

1992 to 2001

The Foundation of the Office

One year after the appointment of the Community Service Coordinator, the college dedicated more staff and resources to the Community Service Program. The Bonner Scholars Program came to Davidson in 1992, becoming the first scholarship program dedicated to service in the college’s history. The Bonner Program, a four-year scholarship program, brings together twenty students per grade and unites them under the banner of bringing “about positive community change through service, research and action” (Center for Civic Engagement: Selected Program Highlights). Davidson was one of the first colleges in the nation to establish a Bonner program and commit Bonner resources to various non-profits in our community.

In addition to the entrance of Bonner on campus, the Y.S.S.C. experienced a renaissance and was rebranded as Reach Out at Davidson. Reach Out was a student-run organization focused on coordinating direct service opportunities for all students (Strategic Plan. History). The growth of Reach Out resulted from the 1988 Task Force on Service in order “to create an umbrella organization to unify the Davidson service effort” (Brady). With Bonner and Reach Out growing, the college began to need a centralized location where students, faculty, and community members could come to engage in direct community service.

Ruth Pittard

Ruth Pittard

The Beginnings

As part of the need to create a physical space for the growing program, the Community Service Office was officially formed and was given a clear reporting and advisory structure in 1992. Ruth Pittard, after directing the Bonner Program for two years, was promoted to assistant dean for community service and international programs. Pittard had trained as a high school English teacher and had been with Davidson in a diverse series of roles for twenty years before her appointment. Additionally, the program hired a staff assistant, Linda Gurley, who continues to serve in this role as of May 2011 (About the Program).

Students staffing one of the first Volunteer Fairs students.

First Volunteer Fair in the fall of 1993

Through the new Community Service Office, the staff began to offer different opportunities for the college and greater Davidson community. One such program was the first Volunteer Fair in the fall of 1993. This event brought 30 different organizations to campus and they presented different causes that needed student help. This annual fair affords Davidson, both the college and the town, the ability to come together and address mutual needs and concerns at the beginning of each academic year. Additionally, in 1995, the Office committed to making the freshman orientation service project and walk an annual event, in order to introduce first year students to the culture of service early on.

New Developments

Four years following the establishment of the Community Service Office, Pittard brought together students, faculty, and town citizens, in 1996, to form the Community Service Advisory Board. The Board’s charge was to discuss and formulate a mission and statement of purpose for the Office, as well as organize campus and town priorities. On November 1st, they concluded that the Community Service Office existed to integrate community service into the life of the college community. Returning to the college mission of preparing lives for leadership and service, the Program would:
• Represent the college in the greater service community,
• Advise student service groups,
• Work with existing service organizations around the college,
• And enhance student life by integrating service into every facet of college life.
(Community Service Advisory Board).

One of the most important guiding principles of the Statement of Purpose was the recognition that the Program needed to expand the classroom experience through service, and demonstrate the multi-dimensional face to service and community action. This led to the development of service-learning classes where students would develop and reflect upon their academic work through thoughtful participation in organized community work (hyper to service-learning page).

Therefore in 1997, Pittard directed the formation of the student-led Service Council. This Council came from the 1997 Task Force for Service that concluded that “a more diverse campus wide umbrella organization” would be beneficial to the college. In order to concentrate student efforts, “perpetuate the growing interest in community service on campus, and to secure community service as a priority in Davidson’s future,” the Service Council and Community Service Office continued to foster student involvement (Kinnaman). Moreover, Service Council meeting minutes highlight their desire to be a unifying force, to be a starting point, to create solidarity on campus, and to be visionaries and dreamers (Strategic Plan. Program Vision).

Students enjoy their meal at the first Celebration of Service on Chambers lawn

First Annual Celebration of Service

A Solid Role

One year later, in 1998, the Community Service Office continued its rapid expansion and was making great strides in connecting students to community needs. Students engaged in over 9,930 hours of direct service, of which 1,143 hours came from service-learning classes. Additionally, over 80 leadership positions in service organizations were open to students (About the Program).

The school year 1998-1999 could be recognized as the most important to solidifying the Community Service Office as an integral part of the college. First, the Office hosted the first annual Celebration of Service event that is held in the spring to commemorate, celebrate, and commend students, faculty, staff, and community members for active and thoughtful contributions to service. These awards honor those who have the penchant for self-sacrificing dedication to others and the community.

Second, upon the appointment of President Bobby Vagt ’69 (1997 to 2007), a strategic planning team took a look at the Office’s vision and determined four guiding principles: communication, collaboration, continuity, and creation. The Office needed to dedicate itself to linking community partners and college members together while building bridges with different agencies and groups. Pittard and her staff also realized the need to continue to serve as a hub of knowledge and structure to ensure the continuity of student groups all while fostering new and inventive programs (About the Program).

Third, the Office laid the framework for a substantial relationship with Doris Buffet and the Sunshine Lady Foundation. Buffet, sister of businessman Warren Buffet, started the foundation in 1997 and is a pioneer of “small grants to individuals and small nonprofits” which enrich the lives of those who need the most help (Boraks). Pittard learned about the Foundation through Ben Kinnaman ’98, who was the first recipient of the Foundation’s grant, called a “sunbeam.” Pittard reached out to the Foundation and received the first $10,000 grant for a service-learning class, POL 324, based on Buffet’s philosophy of “philanthropy for life” (“Overview of Relationship”). By the end of the 1990s, the Community Service Office had become a well-established program, threading various service organizations into college life.

2005 to 2011

Continuing Successes

By 2005, Davidson College’s commitment to service was clear. With personnel modifications, including Stacey Reimer’s appointment as director of the community service office, establishing Engage for Change, sponsoring two Freedom Schools, and supporting a multitude of other service-oriented initiatives, Davidson’s Community Service Office was growing substantially.

As the office grew, in size and student participation, the title of the Community Service Office was becoming less adequate. New groups and programs on campus reflected a wider range of community engagement, not necessarily captured by the traditional meaning of the office title and the traditional connotations of service. With campus organizations devoted to social justice work, community action research, and activism, the Community Service Office clearly advocated and fostered civic engagement, but the office name itself did not reflect the activities it engaged in.

Change and Self-Assessment

The spring of 2005 brought many staff changes. In August, Ruth Pittard, who served as director and assistant dean of the office for thirteen years, stepped down, opening the position for Stacey Reimer. In addition, Katie Lipsett, ’05, assumed the bonner advisor position, and Kevin Buechler replaced Rosie Molinary as the other bonner chair (Community Service Office. History). In subsequent months, following the staff changes, the Community Service Office conducted an external review – a self-evaluation.

An external review is a tool used within academics that assesses the efforts of various divisions within a college or university. Such reviews are conducted by an outside group of professionals, who perform interviews on campus and looks at the operations of said branch. After research, the group compares their findings to benchmarks for the profession and subsequently makes recommendations for the division’s development and growth. Once the external review commissioned by Community Service Office was complete, the review team produced a ten-page document. The review encouraged the office’s continued growth and development; these recommendations further elucidated that the office’s title didn’t portray or encompass the large extent of civic participation at Davidson College (Riemer).

Students participating in the annual Orientation Service Walk

Orientation Service Walk

Student Leadership and Community Outreach

Paralleling change in the office, in the spring of 2006, Engage for Change was established. Engage for Change, a student-led movement, was headed by Patricia Massey ’07 who convened a group interested in alleviating hunger and homelessness. The presence of many school organizations focused on these same issues created a sense of divisiveness; Massey saw Engage for Change as a group with cohesive ideals and firm values implanted into its core, such as collaboration, sustainability, and leadership (Community Service. Annual Report). Based on social change, student leadership, and community based-learning, this organization represented a field of civic engagement much broader than the Community Service Office that oversaw it. Engage for Change has grown since its inception in 2006, currently sponsoring programs such as the Orientation Service Walk, Service Saturday’s, and the Community Action Poverty Simulation.

Children enrolled for Davidson College’s Summer Freedom School program.

Davidson College Freedom School

Another organization which came to campus and was under the purview of the Community Service Office was Freedom Schools (2005). Officially established in 1993 by the Children’s Defense Fund, Freedom Schools was designed as an educational enrichment program for young African American children lacking access to high quality education services. Under then President Bobby Vagt ’69 (1997 to 2007), the College promised to sponsor two of these schools (located in the Ada Jenkins Community Center and the Fairview United Methodist Church) and became the first nationally affiliated college or university to endorse the program (Giduz). By sponsoring Freedom Schools, Davidson’s commitment to social action, civic engagement, community-based learning, and advocacy further stimulated the awareness for a need of change within the office. Davidson’s Freedom Schools program has blossomed since its establishment here on campus nearly six years ago. With seventeen children currently on the wait-list, desiring entry to the program, and eighteen student applications for six internship positions in 2011, Freedom Schools is experiencing vibrant success (Sherrill).

The new framework for the Center for Civic Engagement introducing new initiatives and plans for the College.

Framework for for the Center for Civic Engagement

From Office to Center

As Davidson’s service and civic engagement were evolving, so was its leadership; on August 1, 2007, President Tom Ross ’72 (2007 to 2010) was inaugurated as the college’s sixteenth president (Gillespie). Immediately taking initiative, the President and the Principal Executive Staff convened six study groups to begin a multi-year strategic assessment process in October 2007 (Riemer). One of the study groups convened, “Service and Community Engagement,” was solely formed to provide “input on Davidson’s approach to service and community engagement”. By early fall of 2009, the group concluded its research and evaluation of the office and recommended “that the Current Service Office evolve into a Center for Civic Engagement;” the recommendation was approved by the Board of Trustees by October (Community Service Office. Framework).

Though more than 90% of students at Davidson participated in service during this period of transition, and there were 12-15 courses per year that integrated community based learning components, the College needed to provide opportunities beyond volunteerism and make an intentional connection between serving and learning with the community (Community Service Office. Framework). This desired transition could only be accomplished through a shift – including a term in the new title that could incorporate civic participation, social action, social justice, community based learning, service leadership, and community partnership development. “Civic Engagement” was the term of choice because its definition is much broader than “Community Service,” including community-learning and social action in its meaning. Changing the “Office” to a “Center” had some implications as well, as a “center” implies and caters to a larger audience than does an “office.”

An implementation team, composed of faculty members, students, and staff, submitted the final vision for the “Center for Civic Engagement” in May of 2010. By January 2011, the work of the Service and Community Engagement group and Implementation Team came to fruition, as the Center for Civic Engagement was officially established. The shift was central to the college’s mission because it substantiated the possibility of greater collaboration throughout the Davidson community. As the Framework for the Center explains, “the Center would work with faculty, staff, students and community members to promote learning through engagement with the community” (Community Service Office. Framework). The Center was vital to the development of the college, as the research group and external review proved, because it was one of the only avenues Davidson could travel in order to become a campus more engaged with its community members, students, faculty, and world.

Works Cited

About the Program. Publication for 1999 Annual Report. RG 6/8. Community Service. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Boraks, David and Katherine Johnson. “Philanthropist Doris Buffett talks about the art of giving.” 13 January 2010.

Brady, Mike. Davidsonian Article. 8 September 1997. RG 6/8. Community Service. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

“Center for Civic Engagement: Selected Program Highlights.” Davidson College. Jan. 2011.

Community Service. Annual Report. June 2006. RG 6/8 Community Service. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Community Service Advisory Board. Meeting Minutes. 1 November 1996. RG 6/8. Community Service. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Community Service Office. Framework for The Center for Civic Engagement at Davidson College. Davidson. May 2010. Davidson College.

Community Service Office. History of Community Service and Bonner Scholars Personnel Flyer. Davidson. 2011. Davidson College.

Duttera, Beth. Service Coordinator Annual Report. April 30 1991. RG 6/8. Community Service, Davidson College, NC.

Giduz, Bill. “Service Commitment Leads Davidson to Sponsor Freedom Schools for Area Youth.” Office of College Communications. 01 Feb. 2005. Web. 30 March. 2011. <http://>.

Gillespie, Molly P., and Mark Grotjohn “Presidents of Davidson College ” Davidson Encyclopedia, 29 March 2007. <>

“History of Service-Learning in Higher Education.” National Service-Learning Clearinghouse. Jan. 2008. <>.

Kinnaman, Ben and Ann Culp. Letter to Bruce Parker. 29 August 1997. RG 6/8. Community Service. Davidson College Service Council. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Kuydendall, John. “Scholarship and Servanthood.” Inauguration Speech, 1984. <>

“Overview of Relationship with Sunshine Lady Foundation.” Davidson College Community Service Office. April 2009.

Riemer, Stacey. “Community Service Office.” E-mail to Keith Durante. 7 April 2011.

Riemer, Stacey. “Community Service Office.” E-mail to Keith Durante. 12 April 2011.

Sherrill, Ashley. Personal Interview. 20 April 2011

Silver III, Hayden. Letter to Dr. Chalmers G. Davidson. March 23, 1983. Y.M.C.A. – History At Davidson Davidsoniana file. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Statement of Purpose. Davidson College. <>.

Strategic Plan. “Toward the Union of Academic and Experiential Learning.” History of the Community Service Program. 1999. RG 6/8. Community Service. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Strategic Plan. Program Vision. 1999. RG 6/8. Community Service. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Task Force on Service. Final Report. March 10, 1988. RG 6/8. Community Service. Davidson College Archives, Davidson College, NC.

Task Force on Service. Meeting Minutes during the year of 1987. RG 6/8. Community Service. Davidson College Archives, Davidson College, NC.

“Y.M.C.A – History at Davidson.” Davidson Monthly March 1892: 200.

Authors: Leah Baldasare ’13, Billy Hackenson ’13, and Keith Durante ’14

Date: 21 April 2011

Cite as: Baldasare, Leah, Durante, Keith, and Hackenson, Billy. “Center for Civic Engagement,” Davidson Encyclopedia, 21 April 2011.

Related Entries: Chaplain’s OfficeService Learning

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