YSU Pursues Carnegie Community Engagement Classification

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – For years Youngstown State University has been partnering with community organizations, and YSU students have been volunteering with those organizations.

Now the university is seeking a formal designation recognizing that work.

At a news conference Tuesday, YSU officials announced the kickoff of Road to Carnegie effort and unveiled an exhibit on the fifth floor of the Maag Library that showcases service initiatives at the university.

The university is developing an application to be submitted by next April seeking Carnegie Foundation Elective Classification for Community Engagement in 2026. 

Amy Cossentino, associate provost of strategy and engagement and the dean of the YSU Sokolov Honors College, said the work began a couple of years ago as part of the university strategic plan renewal.

“The Carnegie Foundation’s elective classification is only held by a few hundred institutions across the country,” she said. “We thought, we are doing a lot in terms of partnering with the community to really listen to what the needs are, to make a difference and to have that mutual benefit.”

Through working on the strategic plan, pursuing the designation became a goal. The application effort is led by the YSU Office of Community Engagement. The entities that earn the designation will be announced in January 2026.

The designation would demonstrate the commitment of YSU to the surrounding community, Cossentino said. 

“We found there was community engagement happening everywhere, but we had no way to create this clearinghouse,” she said.

They secured a platform, dubbed the Penguin Pulse system, to log the volunteering and community service performed by YSU students. Faculty are using the system as part of their course, too. 

The university has worked with faculty and the Academic Senate to identify the qualities of a community engaged course. Now more than 30 courses are tagged as community engaged learning that students will have on their transcripts.

“Why does this make a difference? Because it’s a differentiator for our students because they’re actually working with community partners,” Cossentino said.

Ralph Rivera, chief of the Mahoning County Prosecutor’s Office’s criminal division, talked about how students from the YSU Honors College spent time learning about some of the lesser-known workings of the office. The students then wrote stories about what they learned. It provided an experiential learning experience for the students.

Roxann Sebest, vice president of the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, said the United Way has partnered with YSU for several projects. In 2019, the organization’s office on Watt Street was set to be renovated when the contractor told them they had 72 hours to clear the building and leave so that work could begin. It was Labor Day weekend. She called Cossentino.

“Wouldn’t you know, we had six to 10 very dedicated young men and women that showed up to our building and helped us clear out,” Sebest said, adding that United Way was then ready for the contractor to begin.

United Way worked with YSU nursing students in a program through Sight for All United to provide vision screenings for Youngstown City School District students, she said.

Every time the United Way has asked, YSU students are there for the organization, Sebest said.

Amy Weaver, associate professor of nursing, said YSU has always been engaged with the community. From the faculty perspective, the tenets of what defines community-engaged learning are engagement, reflection, reciprocity and public dissemination, or sharing information with partners and the community, she said.

Nursing students are heavily engaged in the community, Weaver said. That also enables them to learn about resources available in the community, information they can share with patients when they’re in the field, she said.

Students Start Service Clubs

Two YSU students, sophomore Avi De and senior Julie Centofanti, talked about the service clubs they started.

De, who is majoring in biology pre-med, was involved with the American Red Cross through his high school. When he arrived at YSU though, there wasn’t a similar club on campus. He contacted the Sokolov Honors College, which connected with American Red Cross liaisons in Mahoning and Trumbull counties through which he started a Red Cross Club at YSU. 

“We host all the blood drives on campus, available to faculty, students, everyone on campus,” he said.

Blood drives are important since a single donation can save three lives, De said.

Centofanti is a biology major who will attend Northeast Ohio Medical University starting this summer. She’s also the student founder of the YSU Transcribing Club. Centofanti started the club with the help of Sokolov Honors College officials.

Club members went to the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian websites and transcribed 43,000 documents so far, ranging from scientific to historical. About 400 students have been involved in the club since it was established four years ago.

The librarian of Congress told YSU Transcribing Club members that they had transcribed about 4% of the documents that have been transcribed at the Library of Congress.

“The Library of Congress said that the documents that are transcribed are accessed two times more than documents that are not transcribed, so this is huge for researchers …,” Centofanti said.

State Reps. Monica Robb Blasdel of Columbiana County, R-79th, Al Cutrona of Canfield, R-58th, and Lauren McNally of Youngstown, D-59th, also attended the kickoff event.

According to the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education website: “The purpose of community engagement is the partnership of college and university knowledge and resources with those of the public and private sectors to enrich scholarship, research, and creative activity; enhance curriculum, teaching, and learning; prepare educated, engaged citizens; strengthen democratic values and civic responsibility; address critical societal issues; and contribute to the public good.”

Pictured at top: Avi De, a YSU sophomore; Amy Cossentino, associate provost of strategy and engagement and the dean of the Sokolov Honors College; Julie Centofanti, a YSU senior; state Rep. Monica Robb Blasdel; Ralph Rivera, chief of the criminal division of the Mahoning County Prosecutor’s Office; Amy Weaver, associate professor in nursing; and Roxann Sebest, vice president of the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.