New Miami University Program Offers Immersive Community Activism for All

James M. Loy, Miami University

Empowerment is for everyone.

This is an idea championed by those who take action, get involved, and make a difference. And it rings clearly throughout a new interdisciplinary certificate offered by Miami University.

Fostering Just CommunitiesOpen to all majors, the Fostering Just Communities (FJC) Certificate is an immersive learning experience that allows college students to address serious social issues by working alongside local residents in high-needs urban areas. Throughout this 12-credit hour program, the community actually becomes the curriculum.

“The Fostering Just Communities Certificate engages students in the LIVED curriculum of working for justice with grassroots experts in communities,” says Dr. Tammy Schwartz, Urban Cohort Director. “The vision for this is that justice is created through collaborative networks, with Miami and with people in the community, who are working toward change that benefits everyone.”

As a program, the Fostering Just Communities Certificate evolved from the award-winning Urban Cohort, which allows Miami students to live and work in neighborhoods striving to overcome poverty, inequality, homelessness, and more. But it expands on the original Urban Cohort model by making the core experiences more accessible to the entire Miami student body.

Now, the Urban Cohort is one of three pathways that will lead to the new certificate. 

Pathway two is the Fall Residency Program. 

Pathway three is the Flex Plan, which is the most versatile option for students. 

In all three pathways, the first course, Empower I, also fulfills students experiential learning requirement for the Global Miami Plan. 

“In the Urban Cohort, you develop relationships with community members over the course of three years,” says Sara Williams, Associate Director of the Office of Community Engagement & Service. “The Fall Residency Program gives students the opportunity for a one-time semester-long immersive experience. Then, the Flex Plan offers the flexibility to do a non-residential experience where students engage with under-resourced communities.”  

three fostering just community students working in the fieldThe goal is to develop a new generation of leaders and advocates who will serve as socially conscious educators, architects, engineers, entrepreneurs, artists, communicators, and more. 

Since true social change will demand the voices of everyone, this program brings together those who hope to have a positive and meaningful impact in many different ways. And by addressing a wide range of social issues from the community’s point of view, it also provides an authentic learning experience that offers students eye-opening new insights into the challenges that residents face.

“I am thrilled with the launch of the Fostering Just Communities Certificate,” says C. Lee Harrington, Miami University Professor of Sociology & Social Justice Studies. “It offers our students the opportunity to deepen their knowledge of socially relevant issues through direct engagement with urban communities and residents. It brings traditional course material to life, humanizes the impact of social issues, and encourages students to be agents of change.”

For more information on the Fostering Just Communities Certificate, email Or visit: