Initiating the Program

by Travis Tennessen

I started working in the Center for Community Learning (CCL) at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington on January 2, 2015. One of my jobs as assistant director was to re-launch the Center’s faculty development program.


In April, I began having conversations with first-year WWU faculty members, to learn about their interests in working with community organizations. I wanted their input on the type of program that they’d find useful.


I talked with between 20 and 25 people, and my takeaways from those conversations included:

  • Many faculty had done community-based work elsewhere, and were eager to get involved off campus. They were also eager to meet other faculty outside their discipline.

  • There was little interest in the term “service-learning,” rather, terms that resonated were community-based research, community engagement, and community outreach.

  • Faculty wanted relationships with leaders of community organizations so that they could do a variety of types of work together, including doing guest lectures, research, co-hosting events, organizing field trips, and more.

  • Faculty wanted to meet like-minded people, talk about their emerging work, get inspiration and ideas from others, and feel supported. They did not want a "training," but rather a community of practice.

WWU Engineering Professor Sura Al-Qudah

was among the faculty who informed the program design. She used the Fellows experience to build partnerships for her Quality Assurance course.

"One of the most invaluable experiences was the strong sense of community that always surrounded me. It was refreshing, empowering, and energizing to be around the Fellows."

- Sura Al-Qudah

Considering these insights, my own experiences, and ideas from CCL colleagues, I put together an invitation to “Community Engagement Fellows” which would begin in Fall 2015.


I circulated the invitation to the new faculty members who I had already met via individual emails, and also sent a mass invitation to all WWU faculty in May.


Almost all of the new faculty I’d met earlier in the spring signed up, which was heartening. I was delighted that many others were interested as well.

I also circulated invitations to faculty at Whatcom Community College, Northwest Indian College, and Bellingham Technical College. Several of them signed up, too!


If I had not yet met with a faculty member who was interested in the program, I scheduled a time to meet with her or him.


By the end of the summer, around 55 people were signed up.


Over the summer, I spent a lot of time reading the service/community-engaged learning literature, and one result was the creation of the first edition of the “Ways to Engage” flyer.


CCL team member Sarah Dorfler and I designed and launched, the program’s website, that summer. Sarah and I also worked together on the “Ways to Engage” flyer.


The first meetings of Community Engagement Fellows were held in October 2015.



Our programming takes place on the ancestral homelands of the Coast Salish Peoples, who have lived in the Salish Sea basin, throughout the San Juan Islands and the North Cascades watershed, from time immemorial. We express our deepest respect and gratitude for our indigenous neighbors, particularly the Lummi Nation and Nooksack Tribe, for their enduring care and protection of our shared lands and waterways.

(For more information: WWU Tribal Relations)

Thank you to the numerous organizations that have empowered and continue to support this collaborative effort through co-sponsoring events and providing meeting space, expertise, and communication support. Special thanks to Eastern Washington University, Northwest Indian College, University of Puget Sound, Whatcom County Library System, and Whiteswan Environmental for their ongoing dedication to the work.

©2020 Community Engagement Fellows