by William J. Lowe
Thursday Aug 23, 2012
The Quality of Life Council (QLC), a membership organization of engaged citizens from business, education, not-for-profit, and government sectors of Lake, Porter, and La Porte Counties has recently joined efforts with the ‘One Region – One Vision’ initiative. A new board of directors has been elected and the six chancellors and presidents of the colleges and universities in Northwest Indiana will serve as co-chairs for the new organization, known as “One Region: One Vision for Northwest Indiana’s Quality of Life”, on a rotating basis.
Sharing a common commitment to building a more sustainable region for the next generation and for generations to come, “One Region” seeks to assure Northwest Indiana has a healthy environment, a healthy economy and an unequaled quality of life. This collaboration of efforts brings the two groups under single leadership and focus to continue to drive the mission together. Each month we share our outlook on the contributions our campuses make to support “One Region”.
The strongest communities are comprised of actively engaged citizens.
Vibrant communities form and flourish when citizens invest both time and talent in the advancement of their common interests.
Many people in Northwest Indiana make significant contributions to the enhancement of our quality of life, through volunteering, innovative ideas and financial donations. Yet, according to a recent study, Indiana residents ranked poorly when evaluated for their overall commitment to their communities.
The Indiana Civic Health Index (INCHI) showed the state’s 2010 voter turnout rate was just 39 percent, ranking Indiana 48th in the nation.
The INCHI study also revealed Indiana residents are less apt than most Americans to do favors for their neighbors or to work as a community.
Much can be done, this report suggests, to strengthen the civic health of our state.
Civic health and engaged citizenship are essential to the basic function and democratic foundation of our communities and our nation, and are challenges that deserve urgent attention.
Higher education institutions, such as those in Northwest Indiana, are uniquely positioned to create and support sustainable opportunities that encourage civic health.
The One Region initiative, actively supported by all six of Northwest Indiana’s college and university campuses, is a sincere example of institutions aligning in the interest of building an engaged community.
With a mission to “build alliances, set direction and forge new inroads binding communities together to assure Northwest Indiana has a healthy environment, a healthy economy and an unequaled quality of life”, the One Region initiative serves as an important vehicle for building civic health.
Community-based engagement, for example, is central to the Indiana University Northwest academic mission, and to its relationship with Northwest Indiana's citizens and stakeholders.
Our students annually contribute service-learning hours, demonstrated daily through course work and projects that are integral to the academic experience and connect students with their communities.
For instance, graduate students from the School of Public and Environmental Affairs were inspired by our partnership role in the INCHI study to learn about the civic health of IU Northwest’s student body.
They produced research focused on students’ voting behavior, civic engagement, social connectedness, volunteerism, and perception of the campus’s community-based mission.
One of the most noteworthy findings revealed IU Northwest students assign high civic value to voting. Eighty-five percent of students reported they are registered to vote, compared with 61 percent statewide.
The heightened level of civic participation by the IU Northwest student body is evidence our campus’s redoubled commitment to civic and community engagement has an impact, both on campus and beyond.
The Center for Urban and Regional Excellence (CURE), IU Northwest’s front door for community-based engagement, helps to connect our campus with the needs of Northwest Indiana.
On a day-to-day basis, CURE sponsors and encourages activities that assist the region, while providing experiences for faculty to extend their scholarly horizons and for students to expand their learning.
One of CURE’s most recent initiatives is representing IU Northwest as one of 25 universities nationwide involved in the Campus Civic Health Initiative, a partnership between the American Association of State Colleges and Universities’ American Democracy Project and the National Conference on Citizenship.
This initiative will encourage universities to expand the role higher education institutions have in advancing the civic health of their campuses and communities.
As the only Indiana institution represented, IU Northwest has a unique opportunity to learn best practices, and to tailor our service-learning commitments to meet the needs of our region.
I urge my fellow Northwest Indiana citizens to join Northwest Indiana’s colleges and universities and One Region, to carry our individual civic engagement into our schools, neighborhoods and non-profit organizations, where our collective efforts will make a sustainable difference in the life of our community.
In this way, we all contribute to the continued growth, health, economic vitality, and quality of life of our nation, our state, and our shared community of Northwest Indiana.
William J. Lowe is Chancellor of IU Northwest in Gary, and co-chairman of the One Region organization.