Bringing It

Bringing It #100: BT2P’s 20th Anniversary (With Free Downloads of Our Books)

February 23, 2023

Dear friends,

This week marks the 100th issue of Bringing It since its launch in 2018. We’re excited to dedicate it to an even more important benchmark: the 20th anniversary of Bringing Theory to Practice itself. We hope that you’ll indulge us if this issue runs a bit longer than usual.

We’re enormously proud of the work that BT2P has accomplished since Don Harward and Sally Engelhard Pingree began it two decades ago. During that time, BT2P has awarded more than five hundred grants to some seven hundred colleges and universities, supporting projects that have fostered community engagement, student well-being, integrative learning, equity, and other core purposes. More recently, our strategic focus has evolved from supporting stand-alone campus projects to catalyzing networked collaboration and a national community of change-makers—an evolution that led us a year ago to launch the Paradigm Project. Throughout two decades, however, BT2P’s mission has remained constant: to advance holistic, engaged, equitable education and to advance the change needed to realize it for all students. (Here’s a fuller overview of BT2P’s history.)

To mark this milestone, we’ve asked several leaders and friends of BT2P to offer reflections on the goals, values, and import of that work. Don Harward co-founded the initiative (after serving as President of Bates College) and directed it for fifteen years. Joyce Bylander (a former dean at Dickinson and Haverford Colleges) is a longtime counselor and friend to BT2P. Patty Robinson (professor of sociology at the College of the Canyons) is a civic-engagement leader in the California community-college system and a BT2P grantee several times over. Caryn McTighe Musil (formerly senior vice-president of the American Association of Colleges & Universities) is a member of the BT2P Advisory Board and an indispensable guide.

We’re grateful to each for their thoughts on the first twenty years of Bringing Theory to Practice.

Don Harward: The Features of BT2P’s DNA

Early in 2003, Sally Pingree and I visited the presidents of multiple colleges and universities. We sat in their offices listening to ubiquitous accounts of student depression and academic disengagement, and the frustration of finding our institutional cultures ill-equipped to help students deal with such experiences. Their reports of student distress were echoed in national surveys, which were finding that “nearly half of all undergraduates report having experienced episodes of depression, disengagement, and emotional distress which were sufficient in themselves to interrupt, deter, and negatively affect immediate academic work.” Compounding such emotional disengagement were reports of a kind of “bargain” between students and their institutions: “If my college doesn’t expect much from me—I won’t expect much from it.”

Those elephants in the room were essentially being ignored–except for the general lamenting of why so many students had “opted out.” Many faculty, staff, and administrators repeated the view that the purpose of higher education was exclusively to inform: “Attending to student wellbeing was not in the job description…It’s the student’s responsibility to engage—we simply teach.”

BT2P was our response. It began with a hunch that has been subsequently confirmed by many teachers, scholars, and students: that the wellbeing of learners, their flourishing, and their authentic engagement are core and interrelated purposes of higher education. There are now transformative changes at many institutions, guided by the recognition that campuses can be liberating contexts for inclusion and identity formation. Since 2003, communities of faculty, students, and staff (many with BT2P support as well as many others) have developed and sustained projects that call for and lead such change. Their commitments and achievements—and their provoking challenges—now inform the work of BT2P in 2023.

Joyce Bylander: The Good Fortune of Finding Bridge Builders

What can you do if you are a committed student affairs/higher ed professional in 2003, concerned about the students on your campus and the stories that your friends and colleagues are telling about their students? If you are fortunate, you are given the opportunity to participate in an endeavor that over the last twenty years has helped transform undergraduate education.

That good fortune was mine because I got connected to Don Harward, Sally Pingree and Tad Roach. These individuals brought together a group of bright and caring individuals, across the academic and student life domains of college life to help reintegrate the lives of the students under our care. The opportunities created by Bringing Theory to Practice have allowed countless institutions to propose and execute programs designed to reintegrate the siloed lives of our students by bringing together the civic, academic, and personal goals upon which higher ed is premised.

Over these last twenty years, BT2P contributed to deepening civic engagement and service learning in countless projects that went beyond volunteering to deep engagement with local communities. Its engagement with student well-being allowed us to tackle the real problems of binge drinking, mental health, and academic drift. Reintegrating the lives of our students allowed them to flourish.

Bringing Theory to Practice helped build bridges between colleagues on the academic and student life side of our institutions. At least I know it did at Dickinson College, where I worked for twenty years. Dickinson was lucky to be an early thought partner, demonstration site, and shaper of BT2P, and I am very grateful to have played a small part in tackling and changing the way it responded to the needs of our students.

Thank you, Don Harward, for your extraordinary and steadfast leadership of this project.

Patty Robinson: How a Grant Changed My College and My Career

College of the Canyons (COC) received its first Bringing Theory to Practice seminar grant in 2013, one focused on the concept of civic engagement. The outcomes of this grant continue to affect COC today; it sparked the development of a civic and community engagement initiative and the creation of the Center for Civic Engagement. It also changed my career trajectory, helping me fulfill my passion for civic learning and democratic engagement and encouraging me to move from the role of administrator to faculty director for civic and community engagement. If not for the support of BT2P, I would have ignored my drive to recognize the importance of civic engagement to promote social change for our campus and community.

The work of the Center continues to thrive because of six more grants, most recently as part of BT2P’s PLACE Collaboratory (Partnerships for Listening and Action by Communities and Educators). My dedication to decreasing the civic equity gap found in community colleges remains an essential goal of my career; and, as a civic practitioner, grounded in the discipline of sociology, I am working to make a difference to advance democracy. With the support of BT2P, College of the Canyons remains dedicated to institutionalizing civic and community engagement and working to increase civic equity throughout California’s 116 community colleges.

Caryn McTighe Musil: Moxie in Theory and Practice

I have always thought that the name, Bringing Theory to Practice, disguised the full power and purpose of an organization committed to the Herculean task of improving the impact of a college education on students and society. From its launch in 2003, I recognized BT2P had a distinctive role. What has made it so influential since then is not the size of its small staff nor its generously shared budget, but the comprehensiveness of its integrative and audacious vision, one that is securely rooted in the democratic values of equity, the common good, and embodying what you know in what you do.

Intellectually vibrant and drawn to incipient knowledge, BT2P has been from its founding unafraid to test hunches through practice and research. It has brought together an ever expanding band of brave thinkers, innovative practitioners, and committed educators, whether student or president, provost or counselor, faculty or community leader. Distinguished by its open-armed and open-minded collaborations, BT2P has been determined to make both higher education and the world better—and they are because BT2P has mettle.

Download BT2P Publications

Along with these generous reflections, we want to add one additional offer from the first 20 years. Under the editorial leadership of Don Harward and others, BT2P published seven books: Transforming Undergraduate Education, Well-Being and Higher Education, and the five volumes of the Civic Series. Five years ago, we also curated a “sampler” of some of the many important essays and research articles from these publications. All the books (with one exception) and the article sampler are freely available on the Publications page of the BT2P website. We invite you to download and enjoy.

We are proud to look back on two decades of Bringing Theory to Practice. We are excited to look forward to the work ahead. Please join us, and thank you for all you do.

With thanks,
David, Grace, Paul, and Todd