George Washington University Spotlight: Engagement in the Capital

This post is part of our Spotlight series, where we spotlight our incredible partners. We are so thrilled that GivePulse has been able to work with these nonprofits, institutions, and corporations! A special congratulations to George Washington University for receiving the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification this year. 

The GW Experience

George Washington University, located in the political epicenter of the United States, maintains a strong focus on the civic world. This civic interest characterizes the students who choose this campus as their home. “GW students come to DC because they are excited about being in the city and being in the nation’s capital,” says Jovanni Mahonez, Assistant Director of the Honey W. Nashman Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service at GWU. “We are an academic community where civic engagement and public service are integral to the ‘GW experience.’”

GW provides students “with opportunities to learn through experience and to test the theories that they have learned in the classroom with the real world around them.” 

Opportunities to engage with a vibrant community enhance this experience. Mahonez believes that in order to “appropriately educate individuals,” GWU “must provide them with opportunities to learn through experience and to test the theories that they have learned in the classroom with the real world around them.” This creates benefits that extend beyond student success — academia as a whole benefits greatly from scholarship purposefully engaged with the non-academic world. Mahonez notes that research “designed to address and provide solutions to real world problems often benefits from reciprocal relationships with people outside academe: those in the community.” 

From Local to International

Washington, D.C., like many cities, offers a rich variety of opportunities for such scholarship and engagement. Here, “within just a couple of miles — and sometimes a few blocks —  we can work on the one hand with powerful, highly resourced institutions and organizations and on the other, collaborate with communities with some of the highest poverty rates in the nation, with attendant illiteracy, health disparities, social exclusion, and neighborhood violence.” 

“Within just a couple of miles… we can work on the one hand with powerful, highly resourced institutions and organizations and on the other, collaborate with communities with some of the highest poverty rates in the nation.” 

Students are offered extensive opportunities to learn and engage in this community. Whether through internships on Capitol Hill and at the White House, work with national and international NGO headquarters, or service and research in schools, community organizations, foods banks, and shelters, students can find a wide variety of options through which to put their skills and interest to work in the community. 

A Robust Community Engagement System

Keeping track of this disparate and yet deeply interconnected work requires a robust community engagement  system, which GWU has found in GivePulse. Prior to GivePulse, GWU used myriad of other solutions for volunteer management, to help match people to service activities and to track these activities. Some departments and organizations used spreadsheets, Google forms, and Word documents to track this information. Mahonez says that “GivePulse is easier to use and many organizations on campus have switched to GivePulse instead of tracking by spreadsheet!” The benefits from this switch go beyond ease: “We get so much more data now… We have greater success in uptake even than we expected!” 

“We get so much more data now… We have greater success in uptake even than we expected!” 

This is largely because GivePulse provides a one-stop-shop for GW, community partners, and the broader DC community. In addition to sending students to GivePulse to engage with community partners, GW uses GivePulse for events and programs such as the annual Community Service and Engagement Fair. GWU uses the subdomain GWServes for their GivePulse page, a simple and clear way of describing their aims: “GWServes — it’s what we do. This describes the many forms of community and civic service: direct community service, social innovation, community engaged research, advocacy, and more. GW serves.” 

Generating Excitement

When asked about her advice for others hoping to set up GivePulse for their institution, Mahonez stressed the importance of working with all of the stakeholders at the very beginning — students, partners, and faculty. To help faculty learn about the program, GW pre-populated their courses and provided specialized PowerPoint presentations for them. They also worked with faculty in-person through small meetings and one-on-one conversations, as well as using screen share to guide faculty through the steps. 

It is important, Mahonez adds, to also share the impact of the new platform: “This August we are presenting to faculty on how great the data is they can get out if they are more cognizant about what they (and their students) put in. As onboarding is more streamlined we are hopeful the data collected this year will paint a bigger and more detailed picture of community engagement.” 

“We are hopeful the data collected this year will paint a bigger and more detailed picture of community engagement.” 

For students, GW hosted a kick-off event, complete with cupcakes, to generate excitement about GWServes. “While cupcakes can get anyone excited,” Mahonez said, “the ease of use and variety of uses with GivePulse has proven to be a plus for student participation.” In addition, GW helped students to onboard at the start of the semester, and show them how to see the affiliations of their courses with community partners. “We use it in real time at our end of semester symposium on community engaged scholarship to have students reflect on their course walls and often faculty give them extra credit for this.”

By helping to get key stakeholders set up with GivePulse, GW has been able to use the platform to its fullest potential. But this takes time; they point out that new users should not expect perfection right away, and should be willing to go slowly in setting up GivePulse. Once it is set up, however, the results speak for themselves. With all the data available, Mahonez says, “Our challenge now is to decide the most important things we want to know about engagement.” Not a bad challenge to have.