Niagara University looking to make IMPACT on community

James Neiss/staff photographerNiagara University President the Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., announces the university’s plan to strategically transform its approach to service learning and student engagement in the community.

Niagara University is hoping to make a greater impact on the community through a new approach to service learning and student engagement. 

School officials announced Wednesday a rebrand of its longstanding service learning program under what will now be known as IMPACT.

Officials said the new initiative will reflect a measured approach to instilling a model of collective impact that creates systemic change through project-based experiential learning. 

The Catholic and Vincentian university’s flagship service program, Learn and Serve Niagara, was established in 1994 through a grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service. Its success prompted Niagara University to make the program a permanent fixture. Data illustrates that NU students currently perform 1,000 hours of service to the community every week through Learn and Serve Niagara.

Officials said they hope transformation of Learn and Serve will allow for a more comprehensive and individualized service program, which places more emphasis on professional and personal growth versus a model that highlights hours of service.

At the heart of IMPACT’s mission is the advancement of the culture of civic and community engagement that exists at NU through closer alignment with the university’s Vincentian mission and Strategic Vision Commitments. Application of the model will accentuate career preparation and workforce development through service.

Operationally, broader integration of civic and community engagement into the university’s academic curricula will leverage the expertise of NU professors and strengthen the mentor-mentee relationship between faculty and students, officials said. The interdisciplinary focus on addressing identified community shortfalls is designed to foster systemic change in the Western New York region and beyond.

“The IMPACT model will provide our students with a deeper understanding of Niagara University’s Catholic and Vincentian mission to serve those most in need and the importance of lifelong civic engagement,” said the Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., president of Niagara University. “With St. Vincent de Paul and the Vincentian mission as our inspirations, students, working side by side with faculty and administrators, will learn how to identify problems, take action and see themselves as agents of change, thus mobilizing a 21st century workforce that is prepared to recognize and address long-term community needs. That is ‘The Power of Niagara University.’”

The IMPACT model requires students to construct projects that they will implement over the course of their academic careers, and that make quantifiable differences in areas of community need. The phases of progression include freshman discovery, sophomore planning, junior implementation, and senior reflection and assessment.

Projects will focus on regional needs that are identified annually by program administrators in consultation with community stakeholders. However, students will not be restricted from undertaking service projects in their hometowns or that are of special interest to their respective academic program or area of study.

To ensure long-term commitment, alumni will also be surveyed on the status of the impact that they are making in their communities after graduation.

Niagara draws inspiration from St. Vincent de Paul, who organized his contemporaries to respond compassionately to people’s basic needs. Continuing this tradition, Niagara has a long history of serving the local, regional and global communities.

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