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What is Community Engaged Learning (CEL)?

Community Engaged Learning combines academic coursework with carefully planned, meaningful collaborative initiatives with community partners that provide direct benefits to the wider community.

The goals of Community Engaged Learning are to:

  • Enhance classroom and community learning experiences

  • Provide direct service that benefits the community

  • Promote civic responsibility and social justice

  • Redress social inequities and redeem disparities

  • Deepen connections with community partners


Bethel students participate in a “Learn to Serve and Serve to Learn” theological model exemplifying Christ’s embodiment of servant leadership. Students offer direct service to community organizations and residents as a component of an academic course.

Community Engaged Learning offers students real-life interactions and presents them with opportunities to collaborate with community partners on community-minded projects. By learning from and working alongside community partners, students experience the value of furthering civic engagement.

Community Engaged Learning encourages the examination of conceptual and practical theories, participation in classroom lessons and discussion, and the study of community-focused subjects within a multidisciplinary curriculum. These endeavors can stimulate connection between peoples while enriching community empowerment.

A Successful Community Engaged Learning Experience:

  • Connects to the desired academic subject and satisfies course learning objectives

  • Meets a genuine community need as expressed by neighborhood members

  • Contributes to reciprocal and mutually beneficial relationships between neighborhood residents, Bethel, and community organizations

  • Requires students’ reflections on their experience so their interactions with community members can shape their outlook and underscore mutually enriching connections with diverse peoples

Who Benefits from
Community Engaged Learning?


One of the key components of Bethel’s “Learn to Serve and Serve to Learn” community engaged learning is to have all the contributors who are involved also benefit from the experience. If properly structured and managed, students, faculty, the university, and the community will benefit from Community Engaged Learning in various ways:


By engaging with CEL principles and practices, students will:

  • Acknowledge the contributions and innovations of community members in enriching the lives of neighbors

  • Recognize community members as educators and vital practitioners tackling injustices and advancing neighborhood betterment efforts

  • Discover how to become civically and community-minded



Alongside faculty and students, community partners undertake initiatives driven by their commitment to combating social injustice and disparities. Community partners will:

  • Collaborate with Bethel faculty and students willing to receive knowledge from, and share skills with, the wider community

  • Spotlight how neighborhood members nurture their communities

  • Deliver presentations showcasing their neighborhood work



Through consultations with the CCEL's Executive Director, faculty will:

  • Receive assistance in making meaningful relational connections with community partners

  • Be presented with pedagogical strategies on how to teach courses that have real-life impact

  • Brainstorm effective community relational practices that students and faculty can observe

  • Show a commitment to enriching students' learning experiences and nurturing collaborations with the wider community


Five Important Characteristics of Community Engaged Learning

  1. Community Service: The basis for Community Engaged Learning—community service—provides a vehicle for the achievement of specific educational goals and objectives to occur.

  2. Reciprocity: Community Engaged Learning is based on a reciprocal relationship in which the service reinforces and strengthens the learning, and the learning reinforces and strengthens the service.

  3. Flexibility: Community Engaged Learning is flexible: It may be used as a practicum, an optional assignment, or a series of assignments. It may also be a requirement, depending on course objectives. It is a flexible concept, designed to help teachers teach and students learn.

  4. Reflection: Faculty designed Community Engaged Learning courses provide structured time for students to reflect on their service and learning experiences through activities like writing, reading, speaking, discussion, listening, and creating.

  5. Assessment: Evaluation in a Community Engaged Learning course focuses on quality of learning and matches teaching objectives, rather than quantity of service.

What Makes
Community Engaged Learning
Different From...

Community Service and Volunteerism

On average, community service and volunteerism often offer multiple learning discoveries. Community Engaged Learning leaves room for students to gain an awareness about themselves and how their outlook and interactions with diverse peoples can be shaped by the communities they encounter.

Bethel’s Community Engaged Learning activities are characterized by carefully spelled-out learning objectives that embrace a variety of pedagogical approaches to community engaged learning and are sensitive to learning experiences and findings that can extend beyond the course timeline.

Internships and Field Education

Internships and field education experience apply previously gained knowledge to real-world situations—with focus on professional training. Service objectives are usually not built into such opportunities.

One of the key components of Community Engaged Learning is a set of definite service objectives. At Bethel, CEL that incorporates civic engagement, practice of citizenship, and sensitivity to community issues are what distinguish CEL from field experience.


Get Started

Steps to Get Started in Community Engaged Learning as a Bethel Faculty Member

  1. Decide how Community Engaged Learning can help you realize your teaching objectives.

  2. Design Community Engaged Learning into your course.

  3. Contact the Center for Community Engaged Learning office at


Steps to Get Started in Community Engaged Learning as a Bethel Student

  1. Talk with your instructor and/or advisor about what you are looking for in regards to Community Engaged Learning opportunities at Bethel University and in Frogtown/ Summit-University.

  2. Contact the Center for Community Engaged Learning at

Steps to Get Started in Community Engaged Learning as a Community Partner

  1. Contact the Center for Community Engaged Learning at

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