Students learn leadership through civic engagement

Caroline Quenemoen has been committed to student development from her earliest days as a faculty member in Rice’s art history department.

“I wanted to become a professor not only because I was interested in and excited about doing research in the field of Roman archaeology, but also because I wanted to work with students,” says the executive director of the Center for Civic Leadership (CCL) and associate dean of undergraduates at Rice University.

Caroline’s commitment to teaching, experiential education and student success as a faculty member meant a seamless transition to leading the CCL, where she mentors students, fosters meaningful civic engagement opportunities and supports students’ progression through the CCL’s civic leadership capstone certification.

Through the CCL, students expand their view of how they can make a difference in communities and organizations, most often through hands-on experience. “The goal of the CCL is to inform Rice students so that they understand how they have political and civic agency,” Caroline says.

Last summer, for example, more than 200 Rice undergraduates developed skills in civic leadership through research, internship and service programs in the United States and abroad.

The CCL focuses on three phases: At the CCL’s “learn” level, students get to know the landscape of community leaders in Houston by spending a day with nonprofit or government leaders and working on a related service project. At the “act” level, the CCL facilitates international programs that enable community-based research and outreach projects across the world. More involved projects at the “create change” level enable advanced students to create their own goals and partnerships through capstone projects.

“Through each of our programs, we challenge students on their assumptions about leadership,” Caroline says. “They understand, by the end, that they are in a team-based activity, participating in a process in which the answers are not known and grappling with challenging issues alongside other people. They are not always the ones driving the decision-making process.”

Experiential learning, by extension, is a way for students to learn how to think at Rice and apply research and knowledge in many ways and in many places. The CCL — like the Doerr Institute for New Leaders, the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership and other programs — provides students an array of paths to develop leadership skills that enhance their core knowledge.

“Through an emphasis on experiential inquiry and research, we are challenging students to think about knowledge in context and in a variety of contexts,” she says. “How does the way we construct understanding shift based on context, whether we are in the classroom or working with a community partner?”

Whether strengthening civic engagement, improving experiential learning or teaching in the classroom, Caroline knows the dedication required to maintain an unparalleled student experience.

“The focus on student achievement has been core for me,” she says. “That’s why I’m here. I’m dedicated to developing students, and I have a strong personal commitment to making a difference.”

Gifts to the Annual Fund help sustain the Center for Civic Leadership and support academic initiatives and classroom resources across the university. Together, these resources enhance the educational experience for students and maintain Rice’s stellar reputation for teaching and learning.

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