University focuses on community

A major foundation recently gave Northern Kentucky University a nod for its efforts in community engagement.

NKU is one of 76 U.S. colleges and universities selected by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching to receive a new Community Engagement classification.

This classification, which institutions must apply for, identifies institutions that encourage and use community collaborations and partnerships to create mutually beneficial opportunities for students, faculty and community members.

According to Gail Wells, vice president for Academic Affairs and provost, the Carnegie classification provides national recognition and affirms the importance of community engagement.

“This type of recognition makes it easier for us to attract faculty, staff and administrators that are interested in working in an environment that emphasizes this type of work, and also helps attract students who are interested in having applied work in the community as part of their program,” Wells said. “It may also be helpful in attracting grants that would give us funding to provide more opportunities.”

The Stanford, California foundation offers three categories for the new classification, which was released in December 2006: curricular engagement, outreach and partnerships, and a combination of these two. NKU was one of 62 schools to be included in the third category. Seventy-six schools were selected from 88 total applicants among all three categories.

“All the institutions and universities that were applying for this had to respond to a number of questions and had to address what type of community outreach and public engagement work the universities are doing,” said Molly Tami, senior project director for the Office of the Associate Provost for Outreach.

Tami and others, under the direction of Associate Provost Carole Beere, compiled supporting documentation and supplied the foundation with brief descriptions of 20 representative partnership projects. The work took several months to complete.

“Several of the projects were funded through the University-Community Partnership Grant program that we have at NKU,” Tami said. She noted that the program grants $200,000 annually to projects that foster a partnership between an NKU faculty member and a social service agency for work that addresses specific social needs of the community.

One such project, “Library Link: Bettering Life In, Life Out,” coordinated by Steely librarian Laura Sullivan and political science professor Melissa Moon, created a partnership with the Kenton County Detention Center. The project offered criminal justice students exposure to the prison population. It provided the inmates with access to information resources and enhanced life skills to return them more productively to society, ultimately a benefit to the community.

Wells pointed out that other outreach and community partnerships link NKU’s School of Nursing and Health Professions with hospitals and public health organizations, as well as bond the College of Business with the local business community. Curricular engagement might include service-learning classes, a community or academic project, a co-op opportunity or an internship.

These are the types of projects that Lee Shulman, president of the Carnegie Foundation, has identified as “new and better ways” for universities to connect with their communities. Shulman issued a statement saying community engagement should be a high priority for higher-education institutions.

“It’s a tremendous positive reflection on NKU and the faculty’s efforts,” Beere said.