Campus News

Civic Connections

UGA partners with nine colleges to improve public service and outreach

The University of Georgia is one of nine institutions (including Michigan State, North Carolina State, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue and the universities of Alabama, Kentucky and Wisconsin-Extension) partnering to advance a dialogue on the civic purpose of universities as demonstrated through their outreach and engagement endeavors. Art Dunning,vice president for public service and outreach, serves as vice president of the partnership. Dunning sat down with Columns to discuss the group’s goals.

Columns: Can you give us a brief history of the partnership and its purpose?
Dunning: The goal of the National Outreach Scholarship Partnership is to advance the national dialogue about the civic connections made by colleges and universities with their local communities as well as with communities across the country and around the world.

How are these civic connections-by institutions, faculty members and students-developed and sustained? How do we assure that learning and research contribute to the well-being of the immediate local community in which an institution resides? How do we do so in an international context? What can institutional leaders do to support faculty members who practice engaged scholarship?

Columns: Why did UGA decide to become involved?
Dunning: In 2001, we initiated a process to review our commitment to public service and outreach at the University of Georgia and to discuss ways to strengthen our relationships at the state, national and international levels.

UGA joined the partnership in 2003. When it expanded to seven and then quickly to nine member institutions, we realized that a formal structure was needed. Last fall, the steering committee members voted to adopt formal bylaws. I will serve as vice president of the partnership for three years.

The partnership is an excellent vehicle for us to connect our campus discussions to a wider national discussion focusing on best practices in outreach and engagement. At UGA, we are specifically interested in ways to support and advance a culture that enhances university-wide engagement.

The partnership provides an opportunity for an enriched understanding of the issues related to an engaged institution and to the scholarship of engagement. It also gives faculty members a national venue to share their knowledge and expertise related to outreach and engagement and the scholarship of this work. Lastly, we are interested in participating with a cross section of institutions, professions and disciplines committed to university-community partnerships. The partnership provides this network of relationships.

Columns: What is the signature activity of the partnership?
Dunning: The partnership sponsors an annual conference with the conference site rotating to each of the partner campuses. We hosted our first conference in 2005. This year, UGA will host the 10th anniversary of the conference Sept. 28-30. The title of the conference is “Pathways of Engagement: Connecting Civic Purpose to Learning and Research-Locally and Globally.”

For faculty members and students who connect their research and learning to work in communities, this will be an excellent opportunity to present at a national conference without leaving campus. The call for proposals is out with a deadline of Feb. 25.

In 2010, the conference will be held at N.C. State.

Columns: Are any parts of the conference geared toward graduate students and early-career faculty?
Dunning: In 2007, the partnership added a pre-conference Emerging Engagement Scholars Workshop specifically for graduate students and early-career faculty members. The workshop is an opportunity for them to discuss best practices for conducting engaged research and to learn about where to publish and how to document their scholarship of engagement endeavors.

Columns: What are the themes of the upcoming conference?
Dunning: There are four themes for the 2009 conference that we hope will be explored at the local, state, national or international levels. The conference planners are interested in presentations that 1) show how universities support and encourage the outreach and engagement scholarship of their faculty members and students; 2) demonstrate the ways that faculty members build and sustain relationships with communities; 3) discuss the impact on faculty members when they intentionally work to connect their research, teaching, and outreach and engagement roles; and 4) focus on students and the impact on students from connecting student learning to work in communities.

Columns: What other activities does the partnership support?
Dunning: UGA is the home of the Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement, a national peer-reviewed journal that is co-sponsored by the Institute of Higher Education and my office. The National Outreach Scholarship Partnership supports a special issue of the journal dedicated to the annual conference theme.

Columns: What does the future hold for the National Outreach Scholarship Partnership?
Dunning: In 2007, the Kellogg Foundation established a regional Kellogg Engagement Award to recognize outstanding outreach and engagement partnerships of four-year public universities. Five regional awardees present their engagement projects at the conference. The National Outreach Scholarship Partnership is considering other ways to raise the visibility of, and respect for, outreach and the scholarship of engagement. We are thinking about a variety of ways to honor and support the work that faculty members “in the trenches” do to connect their research and teaching to helping communities locally, in their state or around the world.