Marist's Center for Civic Engagement and Leadership

New Resource Fosters Community Development Skills and Active Learning

Interested in a career in public service as a nonprofit worker, politician, or the like? The newly established Center for Civic Engagement and Leadership at Marist is your go-to place for internships, inspiration, and other career-building resources. The Center’s goal is to get students involved with community building efforts by getting them involved with local organizations, encouraging community-based learning in the classroom, and bringing in highly qualified speakers to talk about the field of community relations.

Marist's Center for Civic Engagement and Leadership"The Center is committed to developing a new generation of civic-minded and service-oriented leaders who will make a measurable difference in the community surrounding our campus,” according to the Center’s website at The Center encourages students to get involved with our community in tangible ways, thus contributing to Marist’s long-standing commitment to charitable efforts and volunteerism.

The Center is based on a three-pronged approach to encouraging civic engagement and leadership. The first is called community-based learning, which encourages implementation of ideas learned in the classroom to real-life situations in our local communities. The second is the Tarver Institute internship program, which allows students to work with local nonprofits on specific goals and objectives over the summer term under the supervision of a Marist faculty member. The third is an on-campus speaker series which is aimed to inspire students to get involved with local service organizations. The most recent talk was given by Bowie Zunino, co-founder of the Wassaic Project, which turned an abandoned barn into an arts exhibition center.

Director Melissa Gaeke, also a professor of Political Science at Marist, has high hopes for the future of this program based on the success of its current endeavors. “For the Center’s community-based learning portion, we have faculty that are doing community-based teaching this semester in a breadth of topics including political science, English, advertising, environmental economics and more, which is very exciting.”

Marist's Center for Civic Engagement and LeadershipRight now, Civic Engagement and Leadership is offered as an Honors seminar and taught by Gaeke. There will also be a leadership course offered next semester as a First Year Seminar for freshmen. Gaeke is also hoping to launch a Special Topics course on nonprofits in the context of political science in the near future. Special Topics courses are usually reserved for upperclassmen who are looking to fill their major requirements.

Gaeke hopes to develop the Center into a minor that can be integrated into any school of study. Classes will emphasize leadership techniques, community involvement, and relevant projects that will allow all students to become community leaders in their respective fields.

Marist's Center for Civic Engagement and LeadershipKristen Semple is a student who participated in the Center through the Tarver Institute internship program. She is a business marketing major with a minor in environmental policy. She switched from international business to her current major after her experience with the Tarver Institute. “I worked with Clearwater in Beacon. It was a great opportunity. They’re working on environmental issues in the Hudson Valley area, so it’s a great and very focused organization.”

Semple says her experience with the Center has changed her outlook on life, leadership, and her responsibilities as a member of the Hudson Valley community. “Doing the internship has just made me feel like I have a greater responsibility to the community. I felt like my small actions every day could make a difference, and it’s made me want to do better. Like I could go home and watch Netflix for three hours, but instead, I just feel like my time is better spent helping other people.”

She also notes that college students have a unique opportunity in terms of local engagement. “I think college is the best time to be doing that because we don’t have full-time jobs or other responsibilities; we’re here to learn, and I think part of that learning process is getting out there and meeting other people and having real life experiences.”

Other interns have worked with United Way, the Family Partnership Center, and more. These, combined with community-based learning in various classes across disciplines, makes the Center for Civic Engagement a great resource for students interested in public service. “After realizing how much of an impact we can make and that we really don’t, it’s made me realize how vital the Center for Civic Engagement is,” Semple noted.

Written by Shannon Donohue '17

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