Hagen Center Provides Community Service and Personal Growth, Students Say

From building houses for materially poor people, to tutoring children after school, to creating social change beyond Springfield, students say the Hagen Center offers participants opportunities to grow professionally, civically and personally.

Created in 2008 by a federal grant, the Susan Hirt Hagen Center for Civic and Urban Engagement facilitates Wittenberg’s community service requirement by connecting students with various non-profit businesses and organizations, which range from food pantries, community health centers and advocacy groups. According to the center’s website, this is done to “create a more vibrant, cohesive community.”

Ben Brown, ‘16, completed his service requirement by taking a one week trip to Mount Airy, North Carolina, to build houses with Habitat for Humanity, a faith-based organization that builds and advocates for affordable and sustainable housing. For Brown, it was a life-changing experience.

“It was certainly one of my most memorable and transformative experiences not only at [Wittenberg], but in my entire life,” Brown explained. “I learned how to be a team player and [how to] be a part of a community by engaging with people different from myself and respecting their needs and differences.”

In addition to community service, the center also creates internship-driven projects, which link select students with local organizations to conduct research and/or provide immediate services for particular initiatives. The initiatives include: improving housing quality, renewing the core and creek, growing a greener Springfield, and strengthening after school programs.

Kate DeVantier, ‘16, an English major and education minor, participated in the after-school program last summer, where she and one other Wittenberg student co-led reading clubs for students in grades two through six. In addition to granting her teaching experience — a profession she hopes to pursue — DeVantier said the internship also served as a chance to create positive change.

“I was proactively making the community a better place,” DeVantier said. “I really enjoyed being a human resource that the kids could go to.”

In helping the community, DeVantier also said her experience better familiarized her with Springfield — or, as she described it, allowed her to “break the Wittenberg bubble.”

“It gave me a more three-dimensional understanding of the place I’ve called home for three years,” DeVantier explained. “I was able to meet the individuals, families and kids that make-up the Springfield community.”

According to Warren Copeland, the center’s faculty director, this is by design.

“We [the center] want to make sure students get a holistic view of the community that surrounds them,” Copeland explained. “And we try to do this by providing students with projects that will benefit both them and the community.”

In order to ensure that students are “thoroughly investigating their experience,” as Copeland described it, the center facilitates weekly reflections with interns and local community leaders. The center also dedicates the first week of the program to touring Springfield, and encourages interns to attend community events. Copeland said this also helps interns develop civic skills they can use beyond their time at Wittenberg.

At least one Hagen Center alumnus said she has been putting those civic skills to work. Tiana Gilbert, a 2014 graduate, participated in the after-school program for five semesters. She currently teaches eighth-grade English in the Cincinnati public school district through Teach For America, one of the nation’s most competitive post-graduate teaching programs.

Gilbert said her experience with the center was invaluable for gaining employment, but added that the experience left a mark on her that stays with her beyond the workplace.

“Working through the center empowered me to solve socioeconomic problems both in and out of the classroom,” Gilbert said. “It prepared me to not only be a teacher, but also an activist — an activist for a strong community.”

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