Cheryl McKnight, director of the Center for Service Learning, Internships and Civic and Community Engagement (SLICE) at California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) has a hard time calling her job work and often jokingly asks her staff to “stop having fun.”
“I couldn’t really say ‘get back to work’ because that’s exactly what we’re doing when we’re having fun—working hard,” said McKnight.
The enthusiasm McKnight (’01, B.A, anthropology; ’06, M.A., English) displays at work and the significant results it produces has not gone unnoticed by her colleagues, faculty, or SLICE’s community partners.
McKnight has been honored with California Campus Compact’s 2015 Richard E. Cone Award for Excellence and Leadership in Cultivating Community Partnerships in Higher Education. She was recognized for her success in developing and cultivating service-learning and community-campus partnerships for CSUDH, and the overall impact of her work on the California State University (CSU) system.
“I was stunned when I learned I would be recognized by the California Campus Compact,” said McKnight, a Long Beach resident who has led CSUDH’s SLICE program since 2007. “I feel each of my team members really earned this award. And receiving an email about this wonderful honor from Dr. Cone himself really blew my socks off. It was the best part of the award—I’m a huge fan!”
California Campus Compactdeveloped the Richard E. Cone Award to “inspire institutions of higher learning to expand their efforts in institutionalizing and sustaining community-campus partnerships.” The award includes a $500 prize.
“Ms. McKnight is known for her generous and active dedication and commitment to community engagement and service, and authentic partnerships between community and campus—not just at California State University, Dominguez Hills, but throughout the entire California State University system,” said Elaine Ikeda, executive director of California Campus Compact. “We are pleased to recognize Ms. McKnight and highlight her exemplary body of work in the field of service-learning and civic engagement by presenting her with the 2015 Richard E. Cone Award.”
McKnight was nominated by Janine Gasco, an anthropology professor at CSUDH; Mitch Maki, vice provost for Student Academic Success; and community partner Alison Bruesehoff, executive director of the Dominguez Rancho Adobe Museum. McKnight introduced Jerry Moore, professor of anthropology, to Bruesehoff, which led to the development of CSUDH’s Archeology Field School.
“The commitment to the local community is very strong,” wrote Bruesehoff in McKnight’s nomination letter. “Cheryl is constantly bringing people she has met in the community to the museum so they can learn more, and she continually finds opportunities for partnerships with the museum, the campus and other groups.”
McKnight earned her bachelor’s degree in anthropology and a master’s in English from CSUDH, which has had a significant impact on the work she does at SLICE.
“I took so much away from my years as a student at Cal State Dominguez Hills. For one thing, anthropology taught me about human nature, and the more I observe human nature, the more I really care about it. It’s about being validated and feeling your life is worthwhile,” said McKnight. “While studying English I focused on linguistics, but I was more interested in psycho-linguistics, how we use language and what it really means. All this knowledge has been critical in the work I do reaching out to community partners, and when working with our wonderful faculty and student volunteers, and people in general.”
Under her leadership, SLICE has significantly helped the university increase its service-learning courses and the number of students enrolled in them. Her work has increased the total number of service hours performed by CSUDH students throughout the region and beyond, and she has increased CSUDH’s ability to expand and strengthen vital and influential relationships with civic and other community partners.
Those efforts have earned the university placement on the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for the past five years, including this year’s top honor, the Presidential Award. The campus was also honored with the Carnegie Foundation’s Community Engagement Classification.
“Cheryl’s campus, community, and system-wide contributions have resulted in better trained campus service-learning leaders, a strengthened and more forward-thinking CSU network, and better engaged institutions of higher education,” said Judy Botelho, director of the Center for Community Engagement in the CSU Office of the Chancellor. “These contributions are invaluable and will be felt for years to come, and it is why Cheryl is so deserving of this award.”
Programs and events McKnight brought or expanded on campus, and helped develop or launch through SLICE include state and federal government programs, such as JumpStart and JusticeCorps, the American Indian Institute at CSUDH, and the annual Native American Pow Wow, as well as a variety of volunteer programs.
McKnight also played a major role in the community service component of the Division of Kinesiology and Recreation’s new course the Theory of Coaching Baseball and Softball, which was launched in fall 2014. The course teams CSUDH baseball and softball players with former major league players through the Major League Baseball Urban Youth Academy to host baseball camps for students in the Compton Unified School District.
“The university’s vice provost, Mitch Maki—a huge baseball fan—brainstormed the idea of mitigating the loss of Compton’s physical education program by having students play baseball,” said McKnight. “My job is to support this and other projects and help make them happen. How great is that?”
McKnight plans to continue to expand SLICE’s reach throughout the region and believes “the sky is the limit” when it comes to providing community service for people and the communities they live in.
“Most people confuse the word ‘service’ with ‘servitude.’ Our Student Health and Psychological Services staff physician, Dr. Sophia Momand, who gives free medical care to thousands of our homeless citizens, pointed that out to me,” said McKnight. “Most people don’t realize that service is fun.”