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City Engagement Day 2019: Connecting Students, Education, and Community

Students sit around tables listening as a woman talks.
Students learn about Trinity Lutheran Congregation from Pastor Jane Buckley-Farlee before beginning their City Engagement Day project.

For over twenty-five years, students have started off their Augsburg education with City Engagement Day. City Engagement Day is the first step on a student’s civic engagement and experiential journey at Augsburg. Along with their professor and classmates from their first year seminar (“AugSem”), students go out into the community for the afternoon to complete projects at community organizations. Each AugSem has a disciplinary focus, and each City Engagement Day site is carefully selected to pair with the discipline of the AugSem. The afternoon serves as an introduction to the communities surrounding Augsburg and the city of Minneapolis more broadly, a key learning aspect for Augsburg students in their First Year Experience. For some students, City Engagement Day is a catalyst to seek out volunteer or internship opportunities with the organizations they visited! The City Engagement Day experience is an important step in student learning as they begin to recognize and articulate their role in multiple communities, and to demonstrate agency to create positive, informed, and meaningful change in the world.

The goals of City Engagement Day have stayed consistent over its long history. The aims of the day include:

  • Students will learn more about the communities and organizations around Augsburg, and practice getting around the city.
  • Students will encounter community engagement and experiential learning as core components of an Augsburg education.
  • Students will build relationships with peers and faculty through shared work.
  • Students will connect with an organization or community that relates to the focus of their course or discipline.

With the arrival of Augsburg’s largest ever incoming class this fall, a significant number of local organizations were engaged to partner with Augsburg for City Engagement Day. While some local organizations have partnered with Augsburg for City Engagement Day from the beginning twenty-five years ago–including The Cedar Cultural Center, Mixed Blood Theater, Brian Coyle Community Center, and Seward Montessori School–a variety of new partners were engaged to participate in City Engagement Day 2019, including Hook and Ladder Theater and Lounge, the VOA High School, House of Balls Gallery, Waite House Radio station, the Midtown Greenway Coalition, 826 MSP, and Interfaith Power and Light. 

Organizations who participated as partners in this year’s City Engagement Day reported on the positive impact of the students who came to their organizations. At the Hook and Ladder Theater and Lounge, music students helped clean up gardens, cleaned, painted, filled a dumpster with debris, and helped organize a storeroom. Education students moved thousands of pounds of sand into a new sandbox at Anew Dimension Childcare Center, while another, business-focused AugSem moved the entirety of the West Bank Business Association office to their new location in the Mixed Blood Theater space.

Another aspect of connecting students to the communities surrounding Augsburg was transportation for City Engagement Day. Out of this fall’s thirty-two AugSems, twenty-five were able to walk to the site of their afternoon engagement, while the remainder were able to take public transit, due in no small part to the newly accessible Auggie Pass, an all-you-can ride transit pass for Augsburg students. By walking or taking public transit, first year students began to see close-up what our community looks like and what is available in it.

Each year, Mary Laurel True, Community Engagement Director in the Sabo Center for Democracy and Citizenship, organizes City Engagement Day sites. True began City Engagement Day (then City Service Day) early during her 30-year tenure at Augsburg, and each year coordinates the event, carefully pairing AugSem classes with organizations and projects. Noting that the AugSems are paired with sites that are relevant to their disciplinary focus, True emphasized how impactful it has been over the years that students start getting involved right away to see how their potential field of study might be living out its mission in the city in creative and profound ways. 

Student reflections on their City Engagement Day experiences indicated that the day did, in fact, impact their understanding of the connection of an Augsburg education and their current and future change-making in the world. When asked about the most important thing they learned during City Engagement Day, students responded: 

“The way that Augsburg connects with its communities, and how we as students can help our local community.”

“The most important thing I learned was actually how important it is to be a part of your community. This is where I will be living, these are the environments and people I will be surrounded with for the next 4 years. So it’s very important not only to care about but to contribute to your communities…”

“I learned that not only did we help this community center, but I realized that just because we are a University within a community does not mean we are separate from the community. As we continue through the years at this University, we should always recognize and help out the community we are in.”

City Engagement Day may be completed for 2019, but its impact will continue to resonate with students as they enter into the fall semester and beyond. We can’t wait to see how the Class of 2023 will continue to engage with our communities through their time at Augsburg.