Susan Harden, an assistant professor in the Cato College of Education, is the 2017 recipient of Leadership Charlotte’s “Unsung Hero” award for her commitment to civic engagement and social justice. The award honors an individual who works behind the scenes for the good of the community.
Harden joined UNC Charlotte in 2008, developing curriculum and community partnerships for “Crossroads Charlotte,” a citywide effort led by the Community Building Initiative to increase access, equity, inclusion and social trust. Harden’s pioneering curriculum was taught to 800-plus freshmen for four years; these students learned about social challenges in a number of areas, including education, health and the justice system, and they developed innovative community service projects.
A commitment to teaching students to be engaged citizens drives much of Harden’s work.
“Our students learn how to use their academic skills in the community to lift others up,” she said. “The actions of our students are leveraged to benefit thousands in the community – making more elevators. And you in the community co-teach our students sharing your knowledge. It is a win-win.”
When the Crossroads Charlotte initiative concluded in 2011, Harden was promoted to program director for the Civic Minor in Urban Youth and Communities. The minor teaches students from diverse majors about urban educational contexts, service learning and community engagement theory. UNC Charlotte was one of only five campuses nationally to secure a highly competitive grant from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities to create the minor.
Harden also serves as program director of the Charlotte Community Scholars, a program that provides students with an immersive engaged scholarship experience, advances the public good and addresses critical community needs. During the nine-week program, students engage in community-based learning and professional development opportunities while reflecting on the challenges and rewards of working for the public good.
Beyond her extensive faculty work, Harden is a model of service-learning, civic engagement and community leadership. One of her most noteworthy projects is with the Levine Museum of the New South. Harden served as the University partner to the museum, collaboratively developing programs and assessing the capacity of cultural institutions to impact community change. Exhibitions included “Nuevolution: Latinos and the New South” (2015-17), “Courage: The Carolina Story That Changed America” (2011-12) and “Changing Places: From Black & White to Technicolor” (2009 -11).
Harden has established a number of service-based and educational partnerships, including the YWCA Sunridge afterschool site where students mentor, tutor and lead enrichment activities for elementary and middle school students living in a Charlotte Housing Authority community. She’s partnered with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library to implement service-learning projects focused on expanding services to older adults and increasing bilingual literacy programming. Also, she has coordinated service-learning projects with Room in the Inn, a citywide faith-based outreach organization, to shelter and feed the homeless.
Additionally, Harden developed a historical exploration and cultural tour of Charlotte and Charlotte ENGAGE!, a 10-week summer immersion program working with partner organizations on social capital projects. She has published numerous scholarly articles on social trust, service learning and community engagement, and she remains a popular national speaker on these topics.
Harden serves on a variety of University and community boards, such as UNC Charlotte’s Civic Engagement Team, the Women’s Summit Council and Seigle Avenue Partners.