North Georgia College & State University was one of 115 institutions of higher education in the country to earn a coveted classification this year.
On Wednesday, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching recognized North Georgia for "2010 Community Engagement Classification."
"We're very proud we've been recognized for our dedication to service," said Pat Donat, North Georgia's acting vice-president of academic affairs. "Because we are a state-funded institution of higher learning, we are, by our very definition, charged with promoting the region in which we reside."
The designation is only awarded every two years, and universities and colleges must apply for it.
The classification has only been granted to 311 institutions - about 7 percent of the 4,300 colleges and universities nationwide - since it was created in 2006.
It recognizes schools across the U.S. that have a focus on community engagement.
North Georgia employees spent months building the application, which included a diverse array of projects by staff and students.
Donat said for one project involved physical therapy students running a hippotherapy camp. The students used horseback riding for rehabilitation.
"They found movement on a horse is very helpful in assisting individuals with disabilities as part of physical therapy," Donat said.
Students also assisted with efforts to test the water quality of Lake Lanier and a project to breed predator beetles. The beetles attack the hemlock woolly adelgid, an
invasive insect that is decimating forests of eastern and California hemlocks.
Donat said these experiences are often integrated into lessons.
"Many of these partnerships include service learning projects. Students can apply principles they have learned in class to real-life issues in the community," Donat said.
Kate Maine, a spokeswoman for the university, said the application included the popular Appalachian Nurse Practitioner Clinic.
"(The clinic) provides a clinical educational environment for nursing students while serving medically under-insured patients," Maine said.
North Georgia is one of only two schools in the University System of Georgia to earn the designation. The University of Georgia also earned the classification this year.
Donat said it will help strengthen applications for grants and other funding to support university and community projects, both new and existing.
"Part of the reason for that is it documents a proven track record of productive partnerships with the community," Donat said.
Service to the community is an essential component to the school's mission, Maine said. She adds that education should not occur in a vacuum.
"Our community engagement and service-learning partnerships extend the education beyond the campus boundaries to provide real-world experiences for our students and engage our faculty in community-based research opportunities," Maine said. "These collaborations enhance the quality of life in our region and promote economic development."
Donat said university staff understands the benefits of a reciprocal exchange of knowledge and resources. She expects partnerships will continue to expand.
"As needs in the community grow and the resources on our campus increase, it will likely lead to future collaborations," Donat said.