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About Community Engaged Learning

What is Community Engaged Learning (CEL)?

Community Engaged Learning combines academic coursework with carefully planned, meaningful service that provides 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.

CEL 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.

CEL 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 CEL 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 CEL in various ways:


  • Observe diversity, not just differences in skin color or ethnic backgrounds, but in socio-economic disparities
  • Appreciate similarities and shared connections between people groups
  • Value the unique cultural and historical experiences of others
  • Examine theoretical concepts functional to the real world having a greater impact
  • Learn about community needs, wants, and assets
  • Discover how to become civically and community-minded


  • Gain synergy and interest in the perspectives that students bring to community engaged learning and work
  • Along with the student, increase capability of undertaking concerns and projects that may not be otherwise addressed
  • Gain access to multiple resources at Bethel University


  • Teach courses that have real-life impact
  • Demonstrate a willingness to be creative and flexible with coursework
  • Show a commitment to enriching students’ experiences and service to the wider community
  • Acknowledge community educators as vital contributors to the student learning experience

What Makes Community Engaged Learning Different From:

Community Service and Volunteerism

On average, community service and volunteerism often offer multiple learning discoveries. CEL 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 CEL 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 situationswith focus on professional training. Service objectives are usually not built into such opportunities.

One of the key components of CEL 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.

Five Important Characteristics of Community Engaged Learning

  1. Community Service: The basis for CEL—community service—provides a vehicle for the achievement of specific educational goals and objectives to occur.
  2. Reciprocity: CEL 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: CEL 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 CEL 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 CEL course focuses on quality of learning and matches teaching objectives, rather than quantity of service.

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

  1. Decide how CEL can help you realize your teaching objectives.
  2. Design CEL into your course.
  3. Contact the CCEL office at fsu@bethel.edu.

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 CEL opportunities at Bethel University and in Frogtown/ Summit-University.
  2. Contact the Center for Community Engaged Learning at fsu@bethel.edu