Center for Civic Engagement and Leadership

Our Mission

Founded in 2014, the Center for Civic Engagement and Leadership (CCEL) connects students to their community by providing volunteer opportunities, internships, student employment, and Community Based Learning classes. We stress the relationship between CCEL and its community partners as one of mutuality. Even as students contribute to social programs in the area, they develop crucial skills that will serve them well beyond the college classroom.

A key aspect of our work involves linking academics to social action. By partnering with faculty fellows from a variety of disciplines, we are able to offer Community Based Learning classes across campus, such as Introduction to Professional Writing; Interactive Media; Communicating in the Spanish-Speaking World; Environmental Economics; and The Ethics of Food. In some of these classes, students work all semester long coming up with a project or plan to help a nonprofit client. Other courses require students to research a real-world problem facing a population and come up with a viable solution. Whatever the particular course structure, faculty draw upon the CCEL's host of community partners to provide students with a crucial supplement to their traditional textbook learning.

Since the CCEL’s inception, survey results have shown that 73% of participants in such classes plan to engage with the community even when the course ends. In addition, 81% of students felt that the Community Based Learning component helped them to better understand the required class lectures and readings.

In addition to fostering innovative teaching, we pride ourselves on exposing students to vital community organizations, such as the Middle Main Initiative , and to new career paths. We promote over 150 non-profit internship opportunities in and around Poughkeepsie as well as gap-year programs such as Teach for America and AmeriCorps. By helping students make the transition to life beyond college, CCEL aims to act as a lifelong partner between Marist students and whichever place they eventually call home.

About Community Based Learning (CBL)

The Center for Civic Engagement and Leadership is founded on the principle that civic engagement and Community Based Learning (CBL) empower students to connect their academic work to their wider interests. Participation in CBL provides students with the problem-solving tools and confidence needed to generate positive change in their communities. As defined by Janet Eyler and Dwight E. Giles (1999), CBL provides "...a form of experiential education where learning occurs through a cycle of action and reflection as students. [This model] seek[s] to achieve real actives for the community and deeper understanding and skills for themselves. In the process, students link personal and social development with academic and cognitive development. [Such] experience enhances understanding; understanding leads to more effective action.”

Benefits of Community Based Learning 

For Students

  • Enrich the understanding of classroom material
  • Increase the awareness of important social problems or issues
  • Develop essential skills (e.g. critical thinking, problem solving) for academic work and professional life  

For Faculty

  • Develop new ways to generate higher-quality student learning
  • Cultivate new avenues for research and publication via new relationships with community partners
  • Network with engaged faculty in other disciplines or institutions

For Community Partners   

  • Achieve organizational goals by tapping into valuable human resources
  • Increase the collective impact made in addressing critical social problems
  • Build partnerships with new stakeholders and attract new volunteers

Faculty and students at the College work toward these goals within a wide range of CBL course offerings offered by faculty and departments across campus.

The Marie and Rupert Tarver Summer Internship Program

For the fourth consecutive year, a cohort of highly motivated Marist students remained on campus over the summer to participate in the Marie and Rupert Tarver Summer Internship program, which enables undergraduates to work on a community improvement project in collaboration with a local non-profit organization.

The Tarver Summer Internship Program honors the exceptional accomplishments of Mrs. Marie Tarver, a greatly respected community leader, and her husband, the late Mr. Rupert Tarver, a renowned civil rights pioneer in the Hudson River Valley. The program supports summer undergraduate internships through the CCEL. Participants receive a substantial stipend, tuition credits, and on-campus housing for the duration of the program. As an integral component of the program, interns affiliate with an approved nonprofit organization in the Hudson River Valley and complete agreed-upon goals and objectives during the summer term. Tarver Interns work with faculty and their nonprofit partner to design their internship project and identify the key issues that their work will address.

Center Director

Photo of Dr. Melissa Gaeke, Program DirectorDirector, Center for Civic Engagement and Leadership, Melissa Gaeke, Ph.D.

Melissa A. Gaeke, Ph.D. is the Director of the Center for Civic Engagement and Leadership and Professional Lecturer in Political Science at Marist College. She holds a doctorate in Public Administration from the University of Southern California’s Sol Price School of Public Policy.

Her interests include engaging students in activities that teach them about civic engagement and working with nonprofit organizations to build their capacity to connect access resources and connect with stakeholders. She has worked to create and support civic engagement programs for more than 20 years.