UMass CESL promotes learning for life-long, engaged citizenship, partnering with communities on and off campus to work collectively for a more just society.

CESL's Community for Social Progress (formerly known as the Citizen Scholars Program)

Welcome! CESL's Community for Social Progress is a two-year, academic service-learning program that connects real experiences in the community to coursework, bringing learning to life! This curricular civic leadership program partners with community organizations to work toward community goals and to help students develop the knowledge, skills, and vision they need to build community, be effective citizens, and advocate for social justice.

By joining CESL's Community for Social Progress (CSP), you are making a set of commitments:
· To grow as an active citizen in democracy, building your capacity to work in collaboration with others to build a more just society.
· To grow as a scholar, unleashing your imagination and focusing your curiosity to discover the knowledge and the skills that will enable you to work effectively for change.
· To be a co-creator of a learning community that supports its members in their growth and their action.


CESL's Community for Social Progress (CSP), formerly known as the Citizen Scholars Program, was born in 1998 in a train station in Washington, D.C., where two UMass faculty members, Art Keene and Dave Schimmel, had a lengthy conversation about how they might work together across semesters to build students’ capacity for civic engagement.  After more thinking and planning, the new honors college, Commonwealth College, agreed to sponsor the program, and Art and Dave became its first co-directors.  The Corporation for National and Community Service provided additional support to the program with a substantial three-year grant.

In its initial form, the program offered two courses with service-learning components (the introduction and the capstone) and required students to choose three other service- learning courses.  It also brought students together for monthly dinners and discussions between the first and last course.  By 2002, the four required courses were offered by the program itself in a purposeful sequence that builds each semester.  That year, the program was selected by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching as one of 21 programs nationally to be studied as models for promoting political engagement among students.  In 2004, the third and fourth courses became Honors Capstone Experiences, combining individual or group public policy research and advocacy projects in the third course that lead into community organizing projects in the fourth course.  In 2005, the Program created new structures that substantially increased the role that students play in program governance.  In 2011, the Program moved from the Honors College to the new CESL office and became open to undergraduates from any part of the campus.  Each year, the program evolves in a dynamic relationship with students, staff and community members. In 2014 students and staff voted to change the name of the program from the Citizen Scholars Program to the Community for Social Progress. 

The program's original name, the Citizen Scholars Program, expressed two beliefs which are still at the core of the program:

Citizen:  We believe that democracy is in crisis. Democracy can exist only when the members of a society see themselves as sharing responsibility for running things, for working in collaboration with others to create the kind of society we would want to live in—and there are many forces pushing us away from this kind of shared social responsibility. John Dewey once said, “Democracy must be born anew each generation, and education is its midwife.”  Places of higher education are uniquely responsible for enabling students to learn how to be democratic citizens – to share in building solutions to social problems and in creating new possibilities.  This is called civic learning and civic engagement, working in the public domain, having a public life.  We are not thinking of citizenship as a legal status, marking one as belonging to a particular nation-state; rather, we are reclaiming the idea of citizenship as a vision and a commitment, linking one to the other members of the community and their society.

Scholar:  To make the world better, we must understand the systems within which we act; we must be able to envision the likely consequences of alternative actions within those systems, so we can select the action that has the best likelihood of creating the change we seek.  This involves deep learning from the experience and wisdom of others.   We are not thinking of scholarship as the work done in an ivory tower, separated from life in the way you might mean if you say an issue is “merely academic”; rather, we are reclaiming the idea that disciplined inquiry is central to the work of building a more just society.

We believe the work of the citizen and the work of the scholar are strengthened in powerful ways when they are brought together.  Although not part of the program’s name, there is another belief that is core to the program:  The work of the citizen and the work of the scholar must be combined with the work of the heart, meeting ourselves and each other with compassion and empathy.

Over the fifteen years the program has existed, in American culture the term "citizen" has acquired new baggage:  for many people, it suggests the debates about the rights and privileges of U.S. citizens vs. undocumented immigrants.  In the past few years, students critiqued the program's name as triggering these meanings of privilege and exclusion in people with whom they talked about the program.  In 2014, the staff invited students to propose a new name, and the Community for Social Progress was chosen by vote of both students and staff.  This change is an example of the importance of student voice in the program.  Over the history of the program, decisions about curriculum, policies and procedures have been made by program staff with substantial input from students, and the 2014-2015 academic year will offer ongoing opportunities for students to share in building the program.  Students serve as Undergraduate Teaching Assistants in each of the four courses, and as Campus/Community Liaisons with some of the program's community partners.  Recruitment of new students depends heavily on the work of current students, who visit classes and student organizations to talk about the program and publicize it to their friends.  Current students also serve on the Admissions Committee each spring, participating in interviews of new applicants and in the deliberations about who to admit.

Program faculty and staff meet regularly throughout the year.  Students are invited to schedule time in those meetings if there are issues they would like the program leadership to consider.



In 2014-2015, CSP includes the following components:
·Four 4-credit courses offered by the program which must be taken in sequence
·A minimum of 30 hours of community service by each student each semester
·Course projects aimed at creating structural change in regard to social problems, developed in collaboration with community stakeholders
·A series of events (such as  retreats before each semester, evening gatherings during the semester, and a recognition ceremony in the spring) aimed at building a learning community focused on service-learning, activism, and social justice
·The opportunity to apply for a grant (the Dave Schimmel Internship) of up to $2,000 to work over the summer with State Representative Ellen Story


Read the stories of two Citizen Scholars, Aaron Buford and Lindsay McCluskey.

Visit us at our facebook page for more information!

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Heather McCormack (CSP' 10) combined service at the Amherst Survival Center's food pantry with her course work in CSP. Citizen Scholars join with others to lobby for the Pell Grant in 2011.Aaron Buford (CSP' 08) and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick talk about their shared commitment to public service.








Contact us at:

Civic Engagement and Service-Learning
611 Goodell Building, University of Massachusetts Amherst
140 Hicks Way, Amherst, MA 01003
(413) 545-2015

Chris Felton, Program Manager 
Civic Engagement and Service-Learning, 610 Goodell Building
(413) 577-4255,

Gloria DiFulvio, Instructor 
School of Public Health , 309 Arnold House
(413) 545-5725,

Katja Hahn d'Errico, Instructor 
Civic Engagement and Service-Learning, 610 Goodell Building
(413) 545-5721,

Deborah Keisch, Instructor 
Civic Engagement and Service-Learning, 610 Goodell Building

John Reiff, Director
Civic Engagement and Service-Learning, 610 Goodell Building
(413) 577-1207,