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A Conversation With: Gary Kirk

Associate provost and executive director of the Center for Civic Learning and Action, Dickinson College

Jennifer Deinlein, contributing writer//August 16, 2019

A Conversation With: Gary Kirk

Associate provost and executive director of the Center for Civic Learning and Action, Dickinson College

Jennifer Deinlein, contributing writer//August 16, 2019

(Photo: Submitted) –

Gary Kirk joined Dickinson College in February to head up the Center for Civic Learning and Action. A veteran of the higher education field, he came to Central Pennsylvania from Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Virginia, where he was faculty director for community engagement and director of the Pathways Programs in the school of public and international affairs.

He holds two degrees from Virginia Tech: a master’s in public and international affairs and a doctorate in environmental design and planning. His undergraduate degree is in ecology, ethology and evolutionary biology, from New College of Florida.

He and his wife, Carrie, who works for The Nature Conservancy, live in Carlisle. They have two children: Lauren, a senior in college, and Reed, a junior in high school.

Q: How does the Center for Civic Learning and Action prepare students for success after graduation?

A: Dickinson students work directly with people at the forefront of efforts to improve the quality of life in this region, people dedicated to food security, economic equality, environmental sustainability, social justice and access to education, to name a few. These experiences give students the chance to build relationships, better understand the issues communities face, and learn about the institutions and agencies at the core of communities.

Many of the skills students practice in our programs are the same skills employers are seeking — the ability to collaborate and work in teams, communicate with diverse audiences, develop strategies to address complex issues, apply ethical reasoning in decision making and adapt to rapidly changing and unpredictable environments. While our center is focused on preparing students to be successful in their civic lives, our programs also contribute to success in their professional lives.

What is the most interesting aspect of your role?

I get really excited when I am at a table with faculty from seemingly disparate disciplines, leaders of local nonprofit organizations and students. When you bring together a group with very different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives, the conversation is often unpredictable and challenging. I think it is these moments when we have the greatest probability of generating new, innovative ways of working together. It’s not easy work and it generally requires a good bit of patience. But the payoff can be big.

What can the business community do to partner with the center?

I don’t need to tell your readers businesses are a vital part of the community. Yet they are often not represented in community discussions about social and cultural issues that affect their own success. I’d encourage businesses to bring their expertise and resources to conversations about the health and resilience of their communities. I am always looking for business partners who want to invest in projects and programs that allow faculty and students to contribute to the public good.

As a central Pa. transplant, what do you enjoy most about the Carlisle community?

Carlisle has welcomed me with open arms and I have enjoyed the chance to interact with people who care about this place and its people. It is a special place due in no small part to the tireless work of active and engaged community members. On a very practical note, I’ve loved being able to walk easily to my meetings with community partners and a growing number of great brewpubs, restaurants, galleries and shops.