Bringing the community engagement landscape into view

Posted on August 20, 2012

Article by Kristin Medlin, ICEE Communications and Partnerships Manager

Social entrepreneurship students team up with individuals struggling to make ends meet and win micro-loans to start businesses – and new lives – in Greensboro. A music professor and graduate students partner with the Greensboro Symphony, the Music Academy, and a local principal to give 3rd graders attending a Title 1 school the chance to play a stringed instrument – one of many efforts to enhance diversity in orchestras. A chemistry professor and her post-doc collaborate with an entrepreneur and family farmer to prepare research grade medicinal herbs – the first step to demonstrate their effectiveness in boosting the body’s fight against bacterial infections. A community nursing course’s students partner with a subsidized housing complex to offer free check ups – stopping to take residents’ blood pressure becomes a ‘gateway’ to further conversations about health and wellness. These are just a few of the hundreds of UNCG partnerships benefiting our community.

Stories such as these permeate scholarship and life on our campus. Faculty members have been engaging students in the community as part of course requirements and learning communities for decades. Community partners are our co-educators, co-researchers, sponsors, friends, allies, and advocates. UNCG students expect relevant and meaningful experiences that connect their academic learning to community issues. Graduates take this spirit with them into all corners of the world – spreading the word about UNCG, the impact they made as students, and their commitment to continue to do something bigger altogether.

The problem, until now, has been that these stories of community-university partnerships and impacts have been hard to articulate. We know we are a community of engaged scholars, but collecting and sharing all of our activities has represented an immense and time-intensive challenge. The struggle to paint the full portrait of community engagement at UNCG has served as a primary motivator in the development of the new Community Engagement Collaboratory. Launching on August 29th, 2012, the Collaboratory will serve as a database, a social platform, and a showcase for community engagement relationships, resources, activities, and outcomes. It will compile projects and partnerships engaging UNCG with our community; connect individuals and organizations seeking to expand their engagement activities; and promote project and personal profiles, giving individuals and groups a ‘face’ and a presence on the community engagement landscape. In short, the Collaboratory will help UNCG address the question: who is doing what, where, and with whom for public good and through community-university partnerships?

The Community Engagement Collaboratory is a major initiative of the Institute of Community and Economic Engagement (ICEE). Established in 2008, ICEE was rejuvenated in July 2012 in response to the 2009-2014 strategic plan, which called for an office to support community-engaged scholarship in the Office of Research and Economic Development. “ICEE is just one expression of UNCG’s commitment to excellence in community engagement,” says Dr. Emily Janke, who directs the Institute as Special Assistant for Community Engagement. “It was clear that we had so much going on at the grassroots level – students and faculty doing this work with community colleagues not because anyone told them to do this, but because it improved their learning and scholarly work while also affecting positive change in the community – that we needed a way to go up to the 30,000 foot level and get a snapshot of the engagement landscape.” Dr. Janke convened a 30-member advisory committee that met from January 2011 through May 2012 to inform ICEE’s vision and plans to support excellence in community engagement at UNCG. The committee included a range of community-university stakeholders, who worked to advance ICEE as a central communication hub for community engagement activities, relationships, resources, scholarship, best practices, and outcomes.

The Collaboratory is just the first step. “The Collaboratory will provide us with data about areas of strength, as well as areas of potential opportunity” says Janke. “For the first time in our history, we will be able to engage in data-based conversations about where our collective efforts are – what populations and issues, even what neighborhoods, are being served. And which ones are not.”

Improving communication among all stakeholders is an important ICEE priority, directly in line with its mission. ICEE encourages, supports, elevates, and amplifies the work of faculty, staff, student, and community colleagues from all sectors who are involved in teaching, learning, research, creative activity, and service in ways that promote strategic goals of the university and address pressing issues with important implications to communities across the Piedmont Triad, state, nation, and world.

ICEE hopes the Collaboratory and Community Engagement website will serve not just UNCG members, but members of our community at large. As more people begin to share their partnership stories with us, ICEE intends to act as a megaphone, sharing these stories with the world.

ICEE will host the official launch of the Community Engagement Collaboratory and website on August 29th from 3pm to 5pm in the Virginia Dare Room of the Alumni House. Any member of the community seeking to contribute to the Community Engagement Collaboratory before the launch is warmly welcomed to access the Collaboratory from its pre-launch site.

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