Good evening, everyone.
When we talk about the District’s mission, we typically focus on our primary goal of serving the students, but we actually exist in service to the entire community. When we’re doing our job right, the whole community benefits from us and recognizes our value. While Maricopa County has always appreciated the work we do, our faculty and staff wanted to do even more for the community we serve.
So, we did. State law requires us to adopt a plan to increase student voter registration and turnout. We put our plan into action and in the 2020 election cycle, we showed double-digit percentage growth in civic participation. This achievement was recognized by All-In Campus Democracy who awarded half of our colleges bronze or silver seals for our 2020 student voter turnout. They also gave out just three “voter-friendly college” designations across all of Arizona, and Maricopa colleges earned two of those.
Now while voting is a great start, our faculty and staff didn’t settle for just helping our students to vote — they wanted to help our students to fully engage with the community. Around the District, we have many pockets of innovation working to make that happen. As just one example, take the District’s Student Public Policy Forum: here, faculty and staff bring together students interested in leadership for an academic program to introduce them to policymaking at the local, state, and national level. The program focuses on experiential learning and leadership development through engagement in the political process. One classroom assignment for the program is to find a problem in your community and propose a solution for it. Two of the program’s students, MCC’s Manuel Valenzuela and Phoenix College’s Holly Tourville, chose as their problem the lack of four-year degrees for underserved industries. (Remember that one?) Well, with instruction from faculty, coordination from staff, and advice from both, these two students lobbied individual state legislators on the issue, using their own personal experiences as launching points for deep (and influential!) conversations. As we all know, the state legislature handed us a major victory this year when they voted to allow us to begin providing four-year degrees. In fairness, it would be wildly unrealistic to credit any one person — or even any one group — with that victory, since it had a thousand parents, but Mr. Valenzuela and Ms. Tourville definitely share some of the credit. This example showcases the power of these civic engagement efforts: by teaching students to be influential leaders and then helping them connect with the community at large, wonderful things happen for the students, for the community, and for the District. It’s a win-win-win situation.
The Student Public Policy Forum is just one of the dozens of innovative efforts scattered around the District that promote civic engagement and service learning. The ten colleges have incubated some fantastic programs, but without a districtwide support structure, we haven’t been able to scale them up. Maricopa needs a “base of operations” where the assorted proponents of civic engagement could gather to exchange ideas, support each other…and broaden their successes. Last year, Chancellor Gonzales created just such a civic engagement clearinghouse when he established our new Center for Excellence. Under the leadership of the Program Director for Workforce and Economic Development, Deanna Villanueva-Saucedo, and Glendale History professor John Coughlin, the Center for Excellence seeks to integrate Maricopa’s work around democracy, shared governance, academic freedom, and DEI. By embedding America’s democratic principles into our District at the systemic level, the Center for Excellence is the perfect structure to weave all of our District’s individual threads of civic engagement into a unified tapestry of community service. I’m hopeful that the Center for Excellence will elevate all of our civic engagement efforts to the next level, and ultimately make our service to our community so clear and so important that if anyone ever asks if we provide value to the community, the community itself will answer with a resounding “yes.”
Thank you for your time, and on a personal note, please let me wish you all a pleasant Thanksgiving holiday with your families and friends.