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For Students

What Is Community-Engaged Learning?

Community-Engaged Learning is an experiential educational opportunity. Students work with a community partner and supplement off-campus learning with academic work under the direction of a faculty sponsor. Students are eligible to receive either 0.5 unit of 1.0 unit of academic credit in the department of their faculty sponsor. All CEL is ungraded and can be done during the academic year or in the summer.

Unlike an internship, community-engaged learning presents an opportunity to reflect on an experience by training a disciplinary lens on it. Community-Engaged Learning is learner-driven: students take initiative, actively pose questions, assume responsibility and construct meaning.

The experiential side of community-engaged learning is an internship or a volunteer opportunity.  The student is given training and work assignments under the supervision of a mentor in a government office, non-profit agency, or business.  Students typically work one or two mornings or afternoons per week. Over the course of the semester, these hours add up to a minimum of 40 hours for a half credit, or 80 hours for a full credit. 

The academic side of community-engaged learning is designed by the student in conjunction with the faculty sponsor. Community-engaged learning is learner-driven and allows a student to train a disciplinary lens of their choice on an experience. Students choose a faculty sponsor who gives them academic work that helps to reflect on and integrate their experiential work with classroom learning. Faculty assign students readings that might explore social problems that a non-profit agency works to address, for example. (The OCEL has a list of previously assigned readings categorized by organization that can be found here.)

  • Students are also asked to keep a journal and produce a final integrative  assignment that encourages the process of synthesizing the experiential and academic sides of the community-engaged learning opportunity. Students meet regularly with their faculty sponsors and are required to complete 30 hours of academic work for a half credit, and 60 hours of academic work for a full credit. 

The process

  • Students interested in doing community-engaged learning are invited to make an appointment to meet with the Director (Dr. Lisa Kaul) here:

  • At this meeting students will discuss their interests and come up with a list of organizations that might be a good fit for their interests.

  • Students will be asked to complete a Getting Started form to express their interest.

  • Thereafter, the OCEL will either introduce the student to the organization of their choice or ask the student to contact the organization directly to set up an interview.

  • Once the student is offered a position, they complete a Community-Engaged Learning Agreement - Experiential Work with their agency supervisor.

  • Students then contact a faculty member of their choosing to request them to serve as their "sponsor" and complete a Community-Engaged Learning Agreement - Academic Work with their faculty sponsor

  • Students register for CEL.

    • CEL is a "special permission" course and requires the approval of your pre-major/major advisor and faculty sponsor.

    • Students can register to receive either 0.5 unit or 1.0 unit of credit. 

    • Students receive credit in the department of their faculty sponsor.

    • CEL is Course number 290. 

  • Students participate in an orientation and other programs offered by the OCEL




  • All students are eligible to register for community-engaged learning. We encourage students to begin in the second semester of their first year. However, in some cases, first-semester students may be eligible to register for CEL.

  • Students must confer with their pre-major/major advisor and get their approval in order to register for CEL.  

  • Students must secure a faculty member to sponsor the academic portion of their work before they can register for CEL. 

  • Students can register to receive 0.5 unit or 1.0 unit of credit. Those registering for 0.5 unit are required to do a minimum of 40 hours of experiential work and a minimum of 30 hours of academic work. Those registering for 1.0 unit are required to do a minimum of 80 hours of experiential work and a minimum of 60 hours of academic work over the semester.

  • During the summer, experiential work for CEL should be at least six-weeks long. 

  • Some departments require CEL as part of the major. Please check with your department.

  • Some departments may have pre-requisites for CEL. Please check with your department.

  • In addition to the academic work assigned by the faculty sponsor and the experiential work, students are expected to complete the following components for the OCEL: A Community-Engaged Learning Agreement, a beginning of the semester orientation, a mid-semester cohort meeting, an end of semester feedback form, and maintain a time-log.



1.  Is it too late to add CEL for the Fall 2021 semester?

No, there is still time! View fall opportunities here.

2. When do I register for this?

The ideal time to register for CEL is during the pre-registration period of the previous semester.

3I missed pre-registration! Can I register during the Add period?

Yes! You can register for this during the Add/Drop period. The Fall add period begins on August 30, 2021.

4. Can I do a second six-week CEL?

CEL is ordinarily semester-long and cannot be added as a second six week course.

5. Can I do this in the summer?

Yes! Also, you do not have to pay tuition for the first two units of summer credit! View summer opportunities here.

6. Does CEL have to be in Poughkeepsie?


7. I've got an internship! Can I receive academic credit?

Possibly! You would need to persuade a faculty member of the educational purpose of your internship and ask them to sponsor your academic work.

8. Can I receive compensation and credit?

You cannot receive compensation and credit during the academic year. However, you are able to receive compensation and credit for summer CEL.

9. I did an internship this summer, but I didn't register for CEL because I didn't know I could receive credit! Can I receive credit retroactively?

CEL is an intentional learning opportunity. You cannot receive credit retroactively. 

10. Is CEL graded?

CEL is graded as SA/UN.

11. What is the course number for CEL?

[Department of Faculty sponsor] 290

12. How many times can I do CEL?

CEL is ungraded work. You can do up to 5 units of ungraded work to count towards graduation. 

13. How do I find a sponsor? 

Reach out to a faculty member you know or have had a class with or plan to take a class with. Ideally the research or teaching interests of your faculty sponsor would complement the experiential work you are doing. Yes, we can!

14Can the OCEL help me find a sponsor?

Yes, we suggest names of potential sponsors.

15. Can my advisor also serve as my sponsor?




The Office of Community-Engaged Learning strives to make community-engaged learning accessible to all students, whether or not they have access to a car or are able to drive.  Most opportunities are reachable on foot or by bus, and/or with the help of a student driver or taxi. There are various means of handling your transportation needs. They are as follows:

  • Bus. Dutchess County buses are free to Vassar students with ID. Schedules are available in the Community-Engaged Learning Office and online.  

    • Route L - The route operates seven days a week to and from the downtown City of Poughkeepsie. Click here to see the schedule.

      • Students can take the bus Westbound into downtown Poughkeepsie from College Ave & Fairmount Ave (across from Elizabeth Boutique.) The bus arrives every 30 minutes Monday through Friday starting at 6:26am until 9:56pm.

      • Route L stops at the Main Street hub from where students can catch transfers to other routes.

    • All buses stop on demand - be sure to flag down the approaching bus.

    • All students with placements within 3 blocks of a bus route are required to take the bus unless there are other circumstances that prevent a student from taking the bus.

  • Student Drivers. On certain days, a student driver will use a Vassar car to drive students to and from their placements.  To avail of this service, students must fill out this Request for Transportation form two working days in advance of the day of travel.

  • Taxi. When student drivers are not available, we may arrange to send students to their placement in a taxi. Students must fill out this Request for Transportation form two working days in advance of the day of travel. Students do not need to pay the taxi for a ride as the college is invoiced for the transaction.

  • Vassar College Vehicles. For placements in the Hudson Valley, outside of the city of Poughkeepsie, the college has vehicles that CEL students can secure for the time they will be doing the placement hours. Students must inform the CEL office if they require this service. Please note that vehicles are in high demand and the OCEL cannot guarantee that a vehicle will be available. CEL students can only use the vehicle for the purpose of going to and from their CEL placement. The vehicle cannot be used for any personal errands and cannot carry any individuals that are not listed with the Security Office as passengers. Clearance for use of the college vehicles requires completion of a defensive driving course and evidence of a valid drivers license. Information on how to go about fulfilling those requirements should be addressed to Sergeant Salvatore Incorvaia at in the Vassar College Security Office. Addiitonally, the student must inform the OCEL

  • Train. Students interning in New York City, Albany, and Beacon can receive a one-time transportation stipend to off-set the cost of travel by train. Student are required to submit receipts to claim this stipend.

  • Personal Vehicle. Students using their personal vehicle can receive a 50-cent per mile stipend reimbursement, not to exceed $100, for the semester. Please contact the Office of Community-Engaged Learning for details.

  • Please Note: Student must submit receipts for all stipend requests. All stipend payment request forms need to be submitted no later than the end of classes in the semester. Requests after that date cannot be processed for payment.