An agreement signed today between Emory & Henry College and the Rensselaerville Institute out of New York has the potential to help reshape American higher education for the public good, according to officials from both institutions.
The agreement sets up a collaborative whereby Emory & Henry and the Rensselaerville Institute will work to help communities throughout the country achieve outcomes for human gain. Described as a “think tank with muddy boots,” the Rensseelaerville Institute focuses on improving life in rural, small towns and achieving human gain through a focus on individuals and innovation.
In many ways, the agreement announced today builds on a sparkplugs program that was initiated by Sen. Mark Warner when he was governor and continued by his successor, Senator and former Gov. Tim Kaine. In a video statement from Kaine, the senator praised Emory & Henry and the Rensselaerville Institute for strong reputations for transforming communities.
In addition to a Community Sparkplugs Program, which works with community leaders who have a passion for making life better in their communities, the collaborative will focus on improving education at the primary and secondary level and on helping nonprofit organizations and philanthropies achieve tangible, higher outcomes.
“It was clear to us that this partnership was destined to be,” said Gillian Williams, president of the Rensselaerville Institute, who praised Emory & Henry for bringing both commitment and action to service learning. “Very many people talk about service learning, but very few wrestle with how to make that happen,” she said.
While the initiatives of the program are designed to serve communities, particularly small rural communities, the long-range objective of the agreement is to create among young people the culture and skills to carry the work forward beyond the college years. “This isn’t just about education, but it’s about putting students on a path to becoming spark plugs themselves,” Williams said.
“We are going to change the world, because there are students connected to this work,” she said.
In announcing the collaboration, Emory & Henry President Jake Schrum also announced that the Appalachian Center for Community Service at Emory & Henry would be renamed the Appalachian Center for Civic Life. The new title, Schrum said, demonstrates the Center’s “new position on the cutting edge of education.”
In the wake of challenging times, higher education is recognizing that it must play a greater role in improving life beyond campus boundaries. Liberal arts institutions, Schrum said, are more adept at meeting those challenges.
“The Liberal Arts are constantly asking the question, ‘What are the matters of substance?’ They are constantly helping students make connections between their lives and the common good.”
Emory & Henry, Schrum said, has a 178-year history serving as a catalyst for increasing excellence in communities. The agreement signed Thursday takes that tradition to a bold new level that could add to a new vision for higher education.