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Elizabeth Dunn is a Ph.D. student in information science at the University of North Texas. She also works as the marketing and communications manager for the College of Graduate Studies at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Tex.

Engagement … we hear that word thrown around quite a bit, especially if you work or are involved in marketing or digital media. It’s also a popular topic in disciplines such as human resources and education. “Engagement” is a buzzword, but what does it actually mean? If you google the word in the context of marketing, you are likely to get more than 120,000,000 results. Expand your search by deleting the word “marketing,” and your results are nearly tripled. Engagement is such a hot topic, and there are so many applications of it, during my query I was unable to find a straightforward and commonly accepted definition anywhere. So I turned to the dictionary. Merriam-Webster provides a few terms and phrases to define the word: “to be present,” “emotional involvement,” “committed” and (my favorite, although slightly out of context) “to be in gear.” The faculty and administrators at your university set goals to increase your engagement. How do you become more engaged? My opinion: it’s an inside job. You can define engagement for yourself by being present, emotionally involved, committed and in gear.

Be present. I see it in every meeting and class I attend: lack of presence. I watch my classmates shopping on Amazon while the professor lectures, and my colleagues (and even leaders) tuned out of meetings, distracted by devices. Thanks to cellphones and laptops, we are all often multitasking. However, when we are multitasking, we are not present, and we are not mentally available. When we are not available, we are certainly not engaged. Being present is also respectful. (Have you ever been a presenter and noticed the number of eyes -- and minds -- that are clearly not making contact?) Some studies suggest that being present could even make you a better leader!

Emotional involvement. Why are you in graduate school? Likely you are in graduate school because you have some sort of personal intrinsic or extrinsic motivation. Perhaps that motivation is a promotion at work, or maybe you would like to help amplify the voice of a marginalized people. Emotion is a powerful force for humans. Emotional involvement is varied in nature and, of course, complex. It’s worth thinking about however: a recent study found that the emotional component of engagement is tied to student success. If you’re not connected with your why, it’s time to do so.

Committed. Commitment and engagement are two constructs that can be discussed at length, each on their own. Although different, I don’t believe that they are mutually exclusive. Commitment is a part of engagement because that is what connects us to our why. Perhaps the dictionary was considering engagement to be defined by commitment in the relationship sense. I like that approach as well, even if a bit metaphorical: commitment is about devotion. It’s what incites and drives action toward the next step and ultimately progress (especially when the times get tough). Commitment to our goals serves as a driver to be engaged with our scholarly pursuits.

To be in gear. My parents used to tell me to “get it in gear” when I was a teenager. Usually, they said that when I was slacking … I was late for the bus, I hadn’t finished my homework, my room was a mess, etc. Now, I realize when Merriam-Webster defined engagement like this, they were likely referring to a car, but I think it’s a logical comparison. When you’re a student who’s really in gear, you’re finishing assignments ahead of time. You’re taking advantage of research discussions and meeting with your adviser to discuss your degree plan. You’re finishing your degree in a reasonable amount of time. Because you had it in gear, you got the most out of your grad program -- because of how much you put into it.

My “GradHacker” colleague Jordan wrote a great post earlier this month about scholarly engagement. Check it out here if you have yet to do so. To Jordan, engagement is about meaningful scholarship that makes a difference in the world. Her deep, thoughtful post on engagement really dives into engagement of the heart and mind -- doing work that matters. By truly seeking engagement, you’ll find yourself getting more out of your program, going beyond checking boxes and discovering truly meaningful scholarship that makes a difference to others.

How do you define engagement?

[Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay]

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