Bellarmine earns national recognition for commitment to community engagement

January 9, 2024

Bellarmine University has received national recognition for its work to build collaborative partnerships throughout Louisville and the surrounding region by achieving the Carnegie Elective Classification for Community Engagement. 
The prestigious classification was announced yesterday by the American Council on Education and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.  
Bellarmine becomes one of only 368 universities in the nation to receive this distinction, and only the second private university in Kentucky to do so, along with Berea College. Participating institutions must show that they provide robust support for high-quality community engagement experiences that connect with classroom learning and deliver measurable outcomes for both students and the community. 
“This recognition celebrates an intentional effort at Bellarmine over the past five years to make community engagement a central component of our student experience while also meeting vital community needs,” said Dr. Susan M. Donovan, Bellarmine’s president. “This work has enriched student learning opportunities and contributed to their sense of wellness and purpose. It has also reinforced Bellarmine’s longstanding commitment as a Catholic institution to serve ‘for and with’ those in greatest need in the community.” 
Last year, Bellarmine students engaged in more than 20,000 hours of community service. One organization to benefit from that engagement is Kentucky Refugee Ministries, where Bellarmine students serve as Bonner Leaders, complete academic internships, and volunteer for the annual Knights in Action day in August.  
"We’re grateful for the strong partnership we enjoy with Bellarmine,” said Adrienne Eisenmenger, family and youth services manager for Kentucky Refugee Ministries. “The ongoing investment the university has made into promoting community engagement among students and campus organizations has made a significant impact on our organization in terms of volunteers and internships, donated items for incoming refugee and immigrant students, and educational support services for our rising college students.” 
Since its creation in 2020, the university’s Center for Community Engagement has worked to leverage university expertise and resources to meet community needs while helping students connect with meaningful, purpose-driven work and experiential learning opportunities. The result has been the creation of thriving partnerships in Louisville and the surrounding region through academic courses, extracurricular programs and university research. 
The center is led by Dr. Liz Todd Byron, who coordinated the university’s Carnegie Classification application. Todd Byron noted that obtaining the classification was a specific goal identified in the university’s 2019 strategic plan, Tradition and Transformation, and has been achieved through the persistent, collaborative, passionate and community-centered work of faculty, staff, students, alumni and community partners. 
The Carnegie Classification describes community engagement as collaboration between colleges and their larger communities for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources. The purpose is to enrich scholarship, enhance learning, foster civic responsibility through engaged citizens, and address critical societal issues.  
Bellarmine was one of 18 U.S. universities to receive the Carnegie classification for the first time in yesterday’s announcement. The Carnegie Classifications are the nation’s leading framework for categorizing and describing colleges and universities in the United States. 
“We recognize these institutions for their exceptional commitment to community engagement, and their work to transform knowledge into meaningful action,” said Timothy Knowles, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. “They exemplify the true spirit of the Carnegie endorsement and the power of serving the public good.” 
Bellarmine’s application noted the many measures taken in recent years to strengthen community engagement, including:  
  • >Launching a staffed Center for Community Engagement in 2020. 
  • Establishing community engagement as a thread within a new core curriculum that begins this fall. 
  • Updating faculty rank and tenure processes to better support community-engaged teaching, scholarship and service. 
  • Creating an hour of academic credit that can be added to an existing course for 30 hours of related community engagement. 
  • Developing five experiential learning objectives for curricular and co-curricular usage across the university. 
  • Founding the RISE tutoring program, in partnership with Metro United Way, that supports K-12 students in academic readiness. 
  • Maintaining and growing a food pantry and clothing closet on campus to help meet student basic needs. 
  • Refining evaluation tools for students, faculty, staff and community partners to ensure all parties continuously assess the mutual benefit of partnerships. 
  • Designing strong programming that supports community engagement, such as the annual Knights in Action day of service for new students during welcome week, Martin Luther King Jr. Week of Social Responsibility in January, and Alternative Spring Break trips focused on educational access, racial justice and access to basic human needs each February. 
  • Adopting a Bonner Leader program that allows students to apply their federal work study benefits through community partners such as Kentucky Refugee Ministries, La Casita Center, Nazareth Home, St. Agnes, Have a Heart Clinic, Olmsted Parks and Cabbage Patch. 
  • Providing grants to students who face financial barriers, making it possible for them to complete unpaid internship experiences with nonprofit and government entities. 
  • Awarding Impact Grant funding to support faculty, staff and students in creating or maintaining sustained and mutually beneficial partnerships with community partners. 
  • Hosting an awards program to recognize exemplary community engagement efforts. 
  • Offering professional development workshops for faculty to pursue community-engaged research and course design. 
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What they’re saying 

In the community 
“It is refreshing to be with the future leaders, to see the impact the students have with their work with us and with what they will do in the future.” 
Amelia Baylon, Urban Agriculture Sustainability Coordinator for Catholic Charities: Common Earth Gardens 
“Greater impact is accomplished through strong community partnerships. Family Scholar House is honored to collaborate with Bellarmine University to support students in achieving their fullest potential.” 
Kate Brackett, Chief Operating Officer of Family Scholar House 
At Bellarmine 
"When I began working at the Center for Community Engagement in 2020, I knew I had become a part of a hardworking and ambitious team with big dreams. Little by little, I was able to see how our seeds of passion blossomed into amazing programs, resources and events that continue to touch our Bellarmine community. What I have learned through my experiences with community engagement is how the hands-on work that you do with others in community will also impact how you develop as a person internally. I feel like I too was able to blossom as a result of my time here and for that, I am eternally grateful." 
Beatriz Arevalo, undergraduate student majoring in Psychology 
“The faculty and staff at Bellarmine University have been strong proponents of service learning and community engagement. Community engagement and service learning are used in several ways, including being integral to many courses, international service trips, and free clinics provided by physical therapy students in low-income neighborhoods. These models have helped students achieve essential learning objectives such as networking, team building and communication. The university’s faculty and staff have also contributed their vast expertise by serving on not-for-profit boards, providing consulting services, and through scholarly work. Bellarmine has been vital in having strong ties to the community and has elevated service learning to a higher level. Receiving the Carnegie Classification is an excellent acknowledgment of the work done by the University.” 
Dr. Patricia Carver, Assistant Professor of Business Administration 
"My time at the Center for Community Engagement (CCE) has been transformative, offering enriching experiences and opportunities. Actively contributing to service events, partnering with organizations like KRM, and embracing servant leadership principles under Liz's invaluable mentorship have fueled my passion for positive change. Reflecting on my community engagement journey at Bellarmine, I am forever grateful to have the platform to turn learning into action. The CCE has shaped my dedication to service, and I'm proud to be part of a university that values community engagement. Upholding Bellarmine's social justice mission is both exciting, meaningful and crucial to creating a better tomorrow. The CCE allowed me to connect with diverse communities and address local issues like food insecurity with the Bellarmine community (e.g., Cantober). This journey has enriched my learning and instilled a sense of responsibility for lasting impact." 
Esha Khan, undergraduate student majoring in Biology 
“How can the work we do in the classroom empower people in our communities? That is the essential question for educators and students as we continue to push toward justice. May this formal recognition by Carnegie serve as a call for us to push even further.” 
Dr. Heather Pruss, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice Studies 
“My work with Bellarmine's CCE has shown me how community engagement is more than volunteer work, it is a way to build relationships that develop yourself and bolster existing initiatives. Experiences like MLK Week and Alternative Spring Break have introduced me to partners in West Louisville doing the empowering work that I was already passionate about. I've realized how closely intertwined community engagement is both with social justice and for our careers after Bellarmine. My experience with the CCE has made me a better student, advocate and overall human being.”  
Mikayla Pitmon, undergraduate student majoring in Biology 
“At Bellarmine University we strive to form connections with our students that enrich their minds, bodies and spirits. Community engagement is one of the ways that we enrich our students’ experience and deepen that connection. We are beyond thrilled to receive the Carnegie Classification for Community Engagement and look forward to seeing the continued impact Bellarmine students, faculty and staff have on the community of Louisville.” 
Dr. Alexandra Taylor, Assistant Professor of Special Education

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