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A Path Toward Excellence in Public Engagement

Over the past decade, UConn has made impressive strides with respect to public engagement, in the form of engaged scholarship, service-learning courses and experiences, and mature community partnerships. The Office of Public Engagement provides leadership to connect, coordinate, facilitate, and foster outreach programs as well as engaged and translational scholarship that serve the public good, help prepare our students to be leaders in their chosen fields, and support faculty and staff in scholarly outreach efforts.

The University has been recognized by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching with its 2010 elective classification for Community Engagement, defined as “the collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities (local, regional/state, national, global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity,” based on the University’s commitment to curricular engagement and outreach and partnerships.

UConn Extension—which promotes a vibrant and healthy Connecticut by engaging people in learning partnerships that strengthen communities, support economies and sustain the environment in food, health and sustainability—has served as an engagement model since 1914. In 2013, UConn was one of just five colleges and universities awarded the President’s Higher Education Service Honor Roll (with special recognition for general community service) by the Corporation for National and Community Service. President Susan Herbst serves on the Board of Directors for Campus Compact, a national coalition of more than 1,100 colleges and universities committed to fulfilling the civic purposes of higher education. In 2014, UConn became the new home for the state (Connecticut Campus Compact) association and also served as the host for the national meeting of The Research University Civic Engagement Network.

UConn is now poised to take the next step to become a model for a 21st-century engaged university. The past few decades have seen a shift from one directional ivory tower model of universities imparting knowledge to communities, to more collaborative, bidirectional partnerships. The next major challenge is to study impact on student development, on faculty scholarship, and on community outcomes. As a flagship public research institution, UConn seeks to facilitate “problem solving” for the state and beyond by coordinating efforts and carefully measuring its impact. On strategic topics such as priming the K-12-to-college pipeline in STEM and all other areas of education, promoting the health and wellness of our citizens, and eliminating the disparities and injustices that plague our society, UConn’s students, staff, and faculty will take a leadership role in addressing some of the most pressing issues of our time.

To become a 21st-century engaged university requires consistent focus and effort, but the tasks are clear. We must:

• Articulate the vision and integrative mission of a 21st-century engaged public university;

• Increase the number of service-learning courses as an engagement strategy;

• Further enhance and promote our service-learning courses and efforts;

• Promote opportunities for more engaged student learning, enabling more individualized university experiences, such as lab-based research, internships, study abroad, fieldwork, independent projects, performances, productions, and artistic events;

• Study the impact of our service on the state and the community and increase our capacity to prove the benefits of our students’ efforts on local, state, and national audiences;

• Support University-community partnerships and better articulate how to work collaboratively in shared space, foster additional partnerships, and increase our engagement efforts;

• Explore the possibility of integrating, perhaps under the offices of Public Engagement and the Provost, some nonacademic units (such as University museums and collections) that are currently under the domain of academic Colleges and Schools;

• Encourage faculty to develop more service-learning classes and opportunities;

• Focus on doubling by 2020 the number of UConn students who participate in study abroad programs;

• Promote the UConn libraries as a resource for all citizens to become better educated, more information literate, and more exposed to unique cultural materials;

• Explore the establishment of a Global Education Institute focusing on education abroad, interdisciplinary global studies degree options, and global studies certificates.