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 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 should be done, this report suggests, to strengthen the civic health of our state.
Higher education institutions, such as those in Northwest Indiana, are uniquely positioned to create and support sustainable opportunities that encourage civic health.
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 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.
One of the most noteworthy findings revealed 85 percent of IU Northwest 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, IU Northwest’s front door for community-based engagement, helps to connect our campus with the needs of Northwest Indiana.
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.
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 nonprofit 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 Lowe is chancellor of Indiana University Northwest and co-chairman of the One Region organization. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.