Community Engaged Learning (CEL)

All undergraduate students at USF complete at least one community-engaged learning (CEL) course as a graduation requirement. CEL is a pedagogical framework that guides students to develop academic skills, civic competencies, and ethical commitments while also supporting community-rooted efforts to address justice issues. We are not simply requiring our students to participate in acts of charity, track their hours of service, and reflect on how they feel about the experience. Rather, we are integrating students’ engagement in community with a critical analysis of justice issues, and situating it in a relationship of solidarity and respect for community members and the natural environment.

Requests to add a CEL designation to a course should be submitted through our curriculum management system, Curriculog.

Please see our Frequently Asked Questions page for additional information. 

    Resources for developing CEL courses

    The CEL Self-Assessment Rubric and an updated syllabus that incorporates the CEL Learning Outcomes and CEL Dimensions must be attached to the curriculog proposal.

    Please contact Dr. Star Plaxton Moore for details on upcoming CEL workshops or the Community Engaged Learning and Teaching (CELT) fellowship.

    Consistent with USF's mission and vision, and the essential dimensions of community-engaged learning, the following learning outcomes should be integrated into the course:

    • Analyze the dynamics, strengths, and priorities of a group, community, or environment with which students engage.
    • Examine an environmental or social justice issue, including its root causes, impacts, intersections with other issues, and possible solutions.
    • Analyze one’s own and others’ beliefs, values, social identities, and world views and their implications for how one defines and contributes to the common good.

    CEL courses should also address the following key dimensions:

    • Purpose: 
      • Develop students' knowledge and concern about communities and environments most affected by injustice, and prepare them to lead lives committed to equity and social justice.  
      • Contribute to the common good by building the capacity of individuals and organizations to address community-identified priorities and desires.  
    • Relationships:
      • Foster reciprocal and authentic relationships that honor community partners as co-educators.  
      • Reflect shared leadership and solidarity with community over mere transactional relationships.
      • Integrate sustained community relationships, ongoing communication, shared expectations, and plans for addressing interpersonal and institutional challenges. 
    • Process: 
      • Draw upon student and community voices to shape the course's learning and engagement activities.
      • Integrate guided critical reflection before, during and after engagement to help students make meaning of intersections between academic knowledge, civic engagement, and understanding of diversity, positionality, and power.
      • Include formative and summative assessment of student learning and community outcomes to improve current and future community engagement. 
    • Forms:
      • Frame the course in terms of known pedagogical models including service-learning, participatory and community based research, internship, field experience, or immersion.
      • Demonstrate a public purpose, a vision of social justice and equity, shared interests of community members, and transformational learning experiences for students.
      • Reflect a commitment to equitable community engagement in both course content and pedagogy.
      • Prioritize the quality of the community experience over quantity of hours, but aim for a minimum of 20 hours of engagement. 

    Community Engaged Learning Course 
    Self-Assessment Rubric

    Note that CEL courses must be 4 units; in rare cases, with review and approval by the CEL Committee, departments might design a series of multiple CEL courses for fewer units (e.g. two consecutive 2-unit courses), but the total units across these courses should be at least 4 units.  Students will have to complete 4 units of CEL to meet the graduation requirement.  We encourage you to check out the FAQs page linked to the CEL graduation requirement page for more information and recommendations for designing your course.

    Community Engaged Learning Course Self-Assessment Rubric
    CEL Course Component Ineffective Effective Exemplary Where is this addressed in the syllabus and/or supplemental documents? Indicate the section or copy and paste text from your syllabus
    Course Description Course description does nothing more than indicate that the course has the CEL designation. Course description includes a statement about the CEL designation and how it will support student learning and community-identified priorities and needs Course description includes a statement about CEL as an experience that develops students’ civic capacities, contributes to the public good, and helps USF achieve its mission.  
    CEL Outcomes CEL outcomes are not included in the syllabus or integrated into the course learning outcomes CEL outcomes are copied and pasted verbatim into course syllabus without integrating them into course learning outcomes or CEL outcomes are integrated into course learning outcomes but there’s no indication of which CEL outcome is integrated into which course outcome CEL outcomes are integrated thoughtfully into course learning outcomes, with notations (e.g. CEL 1) next to each course learning outcome to indicate which CEL outcome is integrated.  
    Assignments Only one assignment requires students to synthesize learning from readings, lectures, and community engagement activities and/or the assignment(s) for CEL have negligible point values attached. A few course assignments require students to synthesize learning from readings, lectures, and community engagement activities and these assignments have sufficient point values to make them necessary for passing the course. Multiple course assignments require students to synthesize learning from readings, lectures, and community engagement activities and/or the point value for these assignments significantly impacts the students’ final grades in the course.  
    Community Partner Role The syllabus does not provide any information about the partner organizations or types of partner organizations for the course, nor does it include any mention of the partner’s role as co-educator or students’ accountability to the community partner. The syllabus includes names of community partner organizations and/or description of the types of partner organizations, how partners will support student engagement and learning, and how they will give feedback on student performance. The syllabus describes the community partner organization(s) or types of organizations, the partner(s) role as co-educator(s) in facilitating student learning, and how their feedback will significantly contribute to students’ final grades.  
    Community-Engaged Projects or Activities The syllabus makes vague references to possible service activities with no indication of how students will connect to the activities, how they meet community needs and course outcomes, or how they will be assessed. The syllabus includes a brief description of possible service activities/projects, how they were identified in collaboration with community partners, and how they will be assessed. The syllabus and/or supplementary documents thoroughly describe community-engaged projects and/or activities, including how they were developed in collaboration with community partners, how they respond to community-identified priorities and needs, and how they will be assessed.   
    Student Performance Expectations The syllabus provides no, or vague, suggestions for how students should conduct themselves while working with community. There is no mention of the minimum required engagement/service hours (20) or the syllabus requires fewer than 20 hours of engagement.  The syllabus sets a few specific expectations/recommendations for student performance while engaging with community, and includes an explicit requirement of at least 20 hours of service and expectation of completing all tasks and deliverables. The syllabus or supplemental documents provide a list of clear expectations for student performance and engagement with community,  including the number of community engagement hours (20 or more), attention to relationship building, and accountability for completing tasks and projects.  
    Reflection Reflection is not mentioned in the syllabus or is only done through class discussion or unstructured journaling. Reflection occurs through class discussion and a few graded assignments that might include guided journaling, reflection papers, etc.  Reflection takes many forms, including written, oral, graded, and ungraded, and occurs throughout the semester.  Reflection is guided by prompting questions connected to learning outcomes for the course.  
    Orientation to CEL and community partners Students do not receive an orientation to CEL or community partners, or the orientation entails a cursory lecture. Students receive an orientation to CEL sometime during the semester, which might entail readings, guest lectures, the Ready, Set, Engage! Videos, etc. Also, community partners provide an orientation to students to help them understand the work of the organization. Students receive a robust and interactive  orientation to CEL during the first 1-3 weeks of the semester, and an orientation to community partners from staff at the organization either onsite or in class.  
    Course Content and Learning Activities Course readings, activities, and discussions do not provide any information that helps students connect their engagement/service experiences to a broader context of inequity and injustice, or scholarly frameworks to help them make meaning of the synthesis of classroom and community learning. Course readings, activities, and discussions provide sufficient information to help students connect their engagement/service experiences to a broader context of inequity and injustice. Course readings, activities, and discussions provide extensive social, political, economic, historical, environmental, and/or cultural context to help students understand relevant communities and justice issues; and introduce frameworks and examples of how communities can and do facilitate positive change.  
    Community Partner Relationships
    (narrative about this does not have to be included in syllabus, but addressed in last column of this section)
    There is no direct faculty relationship to any community partners for the course and faculty don’t keep track of who students are working with, what they are doing with the organizations, whether students are having meaningful learning opportunities, and whether community partners expectations are being met. Faculty member does not communicate with partners at all, or only communicates their own expectations unilaterally at the beginning of the course. The faculty member develops and vets relationships with new community partners,  or draws on existing community partnerships that have been vetted by USF. Faculty member either talks with, or exchanges emails with, community partners to allow for an exchange of information, expectations, timelines, etc. for the community engagement activities.  Faculty member checks in with community partner at least once during the semester and once at the end of the semester to gather formative and summative feedback on student performance. The faculty member draws upon sustained relationships with community partners that they have cultivated or connected with through USF’s network of partner organizations. Faculty member meets in person with community partners (preferably at their organization) to discuss expectations, timelines, etc. for the community engagement activities. Faculty member keeps an open line of communication with community partners throughout the semester and invites feedback on student performance to ensure accountability. 

    Describe your role in working with the community partner(s). What does the relationship entail?

    In particular, please address:

    • What role will you play in selecting and vetting community partners?
    • How will you learn about, and account for, community partner expectations and limitations?
    • How will you confirm that the student is doing meaningful and relevant service/engagement with the community partner?
    • How will you collect feedback on student performance at/for the community partner?
    • How will you ensure that the community partner’s expectations and needs have been met?

    The McCarthy Center offers excellent resources for faculty interested in learning more about Community Engaged Learning.

    Please contact the CEL Review Committee co-chairs for further details and resources for developing CEL courses. 

    The CEL Review Committee

    The Community Engaged Learning (CEL) Review Committee is responsible for reviewing CEL course proposals and, including the provision of CEL trainings and resources (which will be provided by the McCarthy Center). Proposals for CEL designations, course syllabi and supporting information are submitted by faculty and reviewed by the committee within Curriculog and discussed at in-person committee meetings. The McCarthy Center provides reviewer guidance to assist in the process. The CEL Committee is comprised of one administrative member appointed by the Provost, three faculty members appointed by the USF Faculty Association, and one non-voting administrative staff member. 

    The current CEL Review Committee:

    • February 14
    • February 28
    • March 21
    • April 11
    • April 25
    • May 9

    Community-Engaged Learning Review Committee Bylaws 

    The Community-Engaged Learning (CEL) Review Committee reviews course proposals and makes determinations about whether courses will receive the undergraduate CEL designation. The Committee also provides support and guidance to faculty, departments, and administrators about how to plan, implement, and assess CEL courses.


    The committee has five members, including three faculty appointed by USFFA, one administration member appointed by the Provost’s Office, and an ex officio (non-voting) member from the Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good. Faculty appointees should represent diverse departments across social sciences, sciences, arts, and humanities, and include at least one faculty member from the School of Education, School of Management, or School of Nursing and Health Professions. The committee will be co-chaired by the Provost’s appointee and one of the USFFA faculty appointees.

    The standard term for appointed faculty serving on the CEL Review Committee is three years. Exceptions for shorter or staggered terms can be made at the discretion of the co-chairs in consultation with the committee.


    Co-chairs determine the time and place of meetings, and develop and make available meeting agendas and materials at least one week before each meeting via Curriculog. Decisions about the CEL designation are reached by consensus or by majority vote of members present. An administrative staff member (typically a Dean’s Office program assistant) will take minutes at each meeting and distribute them to committee members the week before the next meeting; this administrative work will rotate across the schools served by the CEL Committee.


    • Full-time faculty members may propose CEL curriculum changes, after obtaining department or program approval, by submitting a “New Course” or “Modify Course” proposal within Curriculog.
    • Part-time faculty members may propose a CEL course to the department, working in consultation with the chair and full-time faculty to ensure that the course aligns with the department curriculum. The proposal for CEL approval must be submitted to Curriculog by full-time faculty. 
    • The CEL Review Committee reviews all CEL course proposals.
    • The CEL Review Committee co-chairs distribute the agenda with links to relevant proposals in Curriculog, accessible to all voting and non-voting members, prior to each meeting.
    • Co-chairs may invite faculty members who are proposing CEL courses to attend the meeting.
    • The decisions and feedback of the CEL Review Committee are entered into Curriculog by the co-chairs. “Approve” sends the proposal to the relevant Dean’s Office for final review and then to the Curriculog administrator and scheduler for entry into Banner. “Reject” sends the proposal back to the faculty originator for revisions; when the originator completes the revisions and resubmits the proposal, it will re-enter the CEL Review Committee process as outlined above. The Committee may also decide to conditionally approve the proposal, empowering the co-chairs to finalize the approval in Curriculog once those conditions have been met.

    Other Support Roles

    • Oversee tracking of the number and disciplinary diversity of CEL courses being offered and facilitate coordination between the Deans and departments to ensure that all undergraduates have options for completing the CEL requirement.
    • Facilitate professional development workshops and consultations with faculty to support design and implementation of CEL courses.
    • Guide development and dissemination of assessment resources, and oversee institution-wide assessment of CEL outcomes.

    Approved by CEL Committee, October 2019. Approved by USFFA Policy Board, September 16, 2020.

    Other Graduation Requirements:

    Cultural Diversity Requirement


    Foreign Language Requirement