Incorporating Community Engagement into Your Course

A graphic of two hands shaking with words written inside the hands

Community engagement is a type of experiential learning that involves study in a place outside the classroom. Often these community engagement experiences are considered transformative to the lives of our learners and to us as instructors, as well. They involve raising awareness of difficult issues and contradictions, personal growth, emotional and spiritual connections, and making new meaning.

Community engagement usually involves a community or defined place and students working with problems related to that place. This type of learning often involves partnerships with representatives of the place, such as community leaders. Community engagement can occur anywhere such as rural landscapes, urban areas, and even global locations. The general purpose is involving students in impacting and improving the chosen place because of their study and involvement.

In community engagement, students’ learning is also connected to action in the place of study. As the students work in these places, they develop relationships with people as they partner with representatives from non-profit organizations, educational institutions, businesses, governing bodies, and cultural groups. One of the main intentions of this type of learning is the development of personal attachment and concern for place or community. Social justice issues are often a focus of community engagement where students can explore cultural differences and environmental impacts inherent to the place.

What Students Gain from Community Engagement

Students involved in community engagement projects have an opportunity to deal with challenges and opportunities faced by the world they live in. For example, take a minute to listen to a few of our UNT students in this YouTube developed by UNT Leadership Service (for a transcription, click here):

Types of Community Engagement

Community engagement can take on many forms such as environmental and field studies, internships, service learning, and global learning. These experiential community engagement strategies include students attending community events, interviewing community representatives, partnering with local non-profits, etc.

As community engagement often involves community partners, successful partnerships include sufficient preparation of all involved, a focus on capacity building of community organizations, and clearly stated outcomes and evaluation mechanisms. Elements of a good community partnership include:

  • a joint understanding of the abilities and preparation of the students,
  • an understanding of the capacities of the organization(s) involved in working with students,
  • opportunities for making decisions together,
  • a background knowledge of community issues and needs, and
  • knowledge of how to work in communities.

Community Engagement at UNT

Engagement of students with community issues is important to UNT because it addresses the Fourth Bold Goal: "Establish UNT as a nationally recognized, engaged university and regional leader by building and expanding mutually beneficial partnerships and resources.”

Resources from UNT provide many of the connections you can make with groups on campus to help you plan your course assignments. You can find additional resources such as grants and other assistance. The following resources can help you with different forms of community engagement activities:

  • Environmental and field studies: Courses that foster student connections with environmental issues offer hands-on learning opportunities with community partners and professionals working with environmental issues. UNT Sustainability offers opportunities for students to gain knowledge and experience working with sustainability issues.
  • Internships: Internships are arranged by many departments and provide a valuable (often paid) learning opportunity for UNT students. These experiential opportunities provide real world opportunities that are practical and related to the “real world.” Many can provide a future opportunity in the job market.
  • Service learning: Service learning provides opportunities for students to work with their community while providing service and achieving course learning outcomes. Service learning projects provide real services requested by the community that benefit the community. Community representatives are partners in the projects. Students can integrate real world experience with what they have learned in the classroom.
  • Global learning: Study abroad offers opportunities for students and faculty to connect coursework to international experiences. The Institute for the International Education of Students (IES) conducted a survey of study abroad program alumni and discovered enhancements to personal growth, intercultural development, and educational and career gains. The UNT Study Abroad office offers guidelines to faculty developing study abroad proposals.


Center for Learning Experimentation, Application, and Research. (2016). Teaching Resources for Engaged Educators [online training modules]. Denton, TX: University of North Texas.