A brief history of community engagement at Amherst


  • 1986 - Amherst College students, seeing the value of coalition-building between student organizations committed to community action, create the Community Outreach Program.
  • 1988 - With the aid of several Amherst alumni committed to community service, the students involved in the Community Outreach Program approach the College with a proposal to create an Outreach coordinator position. This staff person would develop the program's resources, serve as an advisor to students, and be a liaison to the community.

Expansion of the Program

  • 1989 - The President's Office funds a half-time Community Outreach Coordinator, Nancy Ratner. Activities of the office included a campus newsletter, faculty-run panels and seminars, an orientation weekend program in Hartford. There were approximately 14 different regular ongoing activities, including weekly tutoring in Holyoke, the Cambodian Tutors Program, a soup kitchen in Holyoke, and Habitat for Humanity. There was a January internship program organized by a group of alumni in DC and some current students. There were also one-time only events, like Survival Sunday. After Nancy left the position in 1989, Rani Arbo took over as the half time coordinator.
  • 1990 - Community Outreach Program begins its annual Outreach First-Year Orientation Trip by taking 30 students to Hartford for three days of community work and learning.
  • 1991 - The new full time Community Outreach Coordinator, Mary Bombardier, and students involved in Community Outreach collaborate to develop a series of new resources and programs for the Amherst College campus. Some of the fruits of this labor include the formulation of a Community Outreach mission statement, the emergence of a monthly Outreach newsletter, and the institution of SAP's (Saturday Afternoon Projects) to increase campus involvement in community service.
  • 1992 - Amherst Alumni Association of Washington, DC and Community Outreach collaborate to send first group of DC Public Service Winternship interns for an Interterm at DC non-profits.
  • 1994 -- Students create the Outreach Board, a body of student representatives created to lobby the administration for expansion of the Community Outreach Program.
  • 1995 - The College expands the Community Outreach Coordinator position to full-time and gives the new coordinator an administrative budget for use in expanding the resources and improving the quality and scope of programming coming from the Community Outreach office.
  • 1997 - El Arco Iris Tutoring Program solidifies as a sustainable community partnership of the Community Outreach Program.

Recent History

  • 1998 - Facing ever-expanding student participation in the Community Outreach Program, and realizing the need for increased cooperation between student groups and further support from the College, students re-establish the Outreach Board as a less formal committee called the Outreach Council. Through the Outreach Council, students involved in community service and social justice action collaborate on projects, coordinate efforts, discuss solutions to common challenges, and gauge needs with the intent of lobbying the College for adequate resources. All of this is overseen by the new Community Outreach Coordinator, Jennifer Cannon.
  • 1999/2000 - After extensive student lobbying, the Community Outreach Program is given a van and student office space from the College.
  • 2000 - President Gerety signs Amherst College on as an institution dedicated to the "sustained and creative student, faculty and institutional involvement in the community [through which] higher education realizes its most noble goals of educating citizens, preparing leaders, and contributing to the life of America's communities." The Community Outreach Program applies for and receives a grant that brings a full-time AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteer, Danielle Clough, to campus with the intent of institutionalizing community work and community based learning on campus and in the surrounding communities.
  • 2000/2001 - Office establishes the Cuba Alternative Spring Break Delegation, sending 20 students in its first year of existence. 2001/2002 - The office publishes its first student reader/resource book, revises its mission statement and completes a Long-Term Plan for improvement, begins planning its first day of service, launches its new website, reinvigorates the Outreach Council, and undergoes a formal review by the College Council as Thomas Lepak becomes the second AmeriCorps*VISTA at Community Outreach and then Assistant Director in Fall of 2002.
  • 2002 - After a national search, Amherst College invites Scott Laidlaw to become the first Director of Community Outreach. He works with the administration to create a permanent Assistant Director position and continues to expand links between Community Outreach and various campus offices and community organizations.
  • 2003 – With support from a grant from the Argosy Foundation, the Winternship Program doubles in size with 12 students in New York City as well as the 12 in the original Washington DC program, a part-time Administrative Assistant position is created, and a second van is added for use specifically by students doing community engagement work.  Faith Kares is hired as the Assistant Director of the Community Outreach Program.
  • 2004 – Bringing expertise in student development and program management, Karen Lee becomes the new Assistant Director of the Community Outreach Program.  The Partnership Leaders Program is developed to provide leadership opportunities for students and to support a small but growing number of experientially rich community partnerships. 
  • 2005 – The Partnership Leaders Program expands and more community agencies partner with the College. 
  • 2006 - Amherst College announces a new grant from the Argosy Foundation of $13 million over seven years to support the creation of the Center for Community Engagement.  With these funds, Danielle Hussey is hired as the first full time Administrative Assistant for the program.
  • 2007 – Dr. Molly Mead is appointed the first Director of the Center for Community Engagement and the new Center opens for business.  The Center seeks to promote a culture of community engagement at Amherst and to foster in Amherst graduates a lifelong commitment to community through the creation of opportunities that are linked to Amherst classes as well as co-curricular opportunities where students learn the skills and knowledge to be effective leaders in a diverse democracy.