Brian Yontz, chair and associate professor of education, has agreed to act as interim director of the Susan Hirt Hagen Center for Civic and Urban Engagement this summer while the University conducts a search for the Center’s next leader.
Earning the top faculty prize, the Alumni Association’s Award for Distinguished Teaching in 2020, Yontz is a native of Springfield and a long-serving faculty member in the education department, having joined Wittenberg in 2006. Recently elected to the Board of Trustees for the Ohio Association of Colleges of Teacher Education (OACTE), he is also a graduate of the Springfield City Schools. In 2015, he won the National Scholar Award from the Association of Independent Liberal Arts Colleges for Teacher Education for research focused on alternative pathways of teacher credentialing.
“Brian Yontz has significant ties to the community both in the realm of education and beyond. He teaches courses in educational policy, urban education, and was a member of the urban studies program committee,” Provost Michelle Mattson said. “He will no doubt draw from his experiences with the Hagen Center, Wittenberg, and the city more broadly over the summer as he works with the Center’s experienced staff members, Kristen Collier and Erin Neely.”
The author of multiple peer-reviewed articles and book chapters, Yontz has presented at numerous state, national, and international conferences. He earned his B.A. from Asbury College in Wilmore, Kentucky, his M.S. from Wright State University and his Ph.D. from The Ohio State University. Residing in Springfield with wife, Erin, and daughters, Claire and Caroline, he will continue to be the chair of the education department during his appointment, which officially began on May 17.
“The education department is an amazing group of people, and I’m thankful that they have supported my desire to serve in this role as it gives me an opportunity to hopefully inspire students to view our community as an asset to their learning and to leave an impact along the way,” said Yontz, who feels that one of the benefits of Wittenberg is its geographic location.
“Every single prospective student I talk with or every chance I get to speak about Wittenberg, I always reference the laboratory of Springfield, Ohio,” he continued. “The complexities in our community provide a wonderful learning space for our students in nearly every discipline, and the Hagen Center is that link between our campus and the Springfield region. Being a product of Springfield and the Springfield City Schools and since returning to Springfield nearly 20 years ago, I’ve spent most of my time in the education community, so stepping into this role, I will need to build relationships in other arenas in the community, but I have the confidence that I can create symbiotic relationships for Wittenberg and the community. Even after my first week on the job, I’ve met some new folks in the community that do great work and are eager to mentor and teach our students.”
Not long after his appointment, the Hagen Center launched 19 civic engagement interns into the Springfield community for seven weeks after three days of a comprehensive orientation. The Hagen Center encouraged them to think about civic identity, citizenship, and community organizing. Internship sites for the summer include the Springfield Family YMCA, Project Woman, CDF Freedom School, Fudge Foundation, Springfield Foundation, Heritage Center of Clark County, Springfield Promise Neighborhood, National Trail Parks and Recreation District, Springfield Ohio Urban Plantfolk (SOUP), Hagen Center, Jefferson Street Oasis, Clark County Development Office, and Springfield City Youth Mission.
“Collectively, these students have shown us that they are very inquisitive, compassionate, and they are ready to make a commitment to the community,” he said. “I’m excited to watch their individual learning and development throughout the summer. The overall theme for the summer is “Civic Identity in the 21st Century.”
Another big task Yontz plans to tackle this summer is his ongoing work with the various campus stakeholders on the civic engagement course offerings as Wittenberg transitions to a new curriculum next fall. He also plans to continue the work of former Hagen Center director Ed Hasecke, professor of political science, who left the position in May.
“Ed’s leadership has positioned this summer to be a success, and I could not ask for better folks than the current staff of the Hagen Center to help execute an exciting summer,” Yontz said. “Finally, I really want to do some strategic thinking around the overall structure of the Hagen Center. In its 13 years of existence, the Center has been an incubator for ideas, a clearinghouse for service connections, a research entity, a space for special projects and priorities, and the public-facing piece of Wittenberg’s campus. I want to work with the current staff, the Wittenberg community, and the Springfield community to distill how the Center can best impact student learning moving forward. Overall, I want to communicate well to the campus and to the community the good things that Wittenberg students are doing that lead to their learning and development as citizens.”
This summer, the Hagen Center has 25 students enrolled in Community Service (CMSV) 100 course, and 26 of their partner sites have opportunities for service – some on-site and some remote. The Hagen Center is also co-sponsoring the Walk for Wittenberg with the Office of Alumni Engagement. This special “virtual” event celebrates the 20th anniversary of Wittenberg’s Celebrate Service Day. The staff plans to do their walk on Monday, June 14, beginning at 8:30 a.m. They will be leaving from the Benham-Pence Student Center parking lot.