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Presidential Forum focuses on community engagement
October 16, 2012Tweet
Moving from short-terms interactions with the community to long-term engagement was the driving force behind ideas that came to the fore during President Harvey Stenger’s second presidential forum Oct. 11, in the Anderson Center Reception Room. The topic: community engagement.
“What you’re going to do tonight is to give us ideas,” Stenger said. “We’re looking for thoughts, answers or proposals for how we can do things better. The Community Engagement Road Map team is sponsoring tonight’s session and they want your input on this important topic.”
Pamela Mischen, associate professor of public administration, and Terrence Kane, assistant vice president of government relations, two of the Community Engagement Road Map team co-chairs, facilitated the session, with the help of several resident directors.
“Our team is about community engagement and what I’m excited about is that by creating a road map team, there is recognition of its importance,” Mischen said. “We get to define community engagement and how we achieve it, and as a team we’re working on that. Tonight what we want is to take you through a little of the process our team has already gone through and have you help springboard us into the next part of our process.”
The approximately 50 faculty, staff, students and community members present were broken into six groups to address a question, and then were split into new groups as each of two other questions was addressed. The questions:
1. How do the University and the community interact?
2. How is interaction different from engagement?
3. How do we get to engagement?
Interaction was defined by the groups as the short-term connections made between the University and the community, and engagement was defined as the long-term connections. Both already take many forms, from integrating activities into the curriculum and applying them in the community; to events like Communiversity Fest, First Friday, University Fest and concerts that bring people together; to student volunteer activities like Big Brother/Big Sister activities, Habitat for Humanity, CIC2020 and Binghamton neighborhood programs.
Additional connections discussed included internship and service-learning activities; students as consumers, research assistants, faith and political affiliates and employees; use of applied research in nursing and healthcare; general activism and leadership initiatives; and cultural opportunities.
“One of the things that we talked about was fact that a lot of these things we do aren’t necessarily promoted or advertised in terms of their success,” said one group. “Not a lot of people know about how our students and faculty live here and rent in the community and are contributing in monetary ways and in terms of engagement.”
Others spoke about flood relief and the source of pride for such a meaningful relief effort.
Concern was mentioned about whether the community feels welcome on campus — can they bring their children, walk their dog, use the gym facilities comfortably, does an age gap present inherent difficulties?
Admitting that responses to the three questions were somewhat blurred, participants asked themselves how what Binghamton University already does can be used to help revitalize the community through research initiatives and student activities. “How can we get students downtown and help them see what that community really looks like and what needs we can fill?” they asked. “How do we create goals together and facilitate that conversation? How do we create incentives for all groups to work together? How do we give back to the local businesses?”
Once a connection is made, the groups noted it needs to be sustained – beginning in freshman year and continuing through graduation. “For the student, the interaction or engagement is a four-year one, but it’s a lifetime one for the community as it goes through many student generations.”
Beginning at Orientation by involving students in the community can open up into something larger, groups said, because in terms of being invested in community, students don’t really know a lot about Binghamton.
Suggestions to help create more intentional engagements between the University and the community and creating more “Binghamton spirit” included:
• alternative spring break activities in the community
• giving physical space to the community
• engaging Summer Session students with the community
• increasing student awareness of what the community has to offer
• outreach including voting locally and getting students involved in established projects
• employing students in the community
• integrating more service-learning into academics to give students real-world examples of engagement
• sharing successes and responsibilities
• have members of the Chamber of Commerce come to campus and talk about what there is in Binghamton
• having a Binghamton tour for on OCCT or other buses
• having structured engagements in the community through classes and clubs
• getting good press out there on all the projects that students and the University do and that we want to keep connecting with the community
• bringing more community members to campus to speak in classes
• improving transportation to outlying areas, perhaps a commuter van to reach beyond current bus lines, and improving parking on campus
• creating more paths and sidewalks in the community
• generating a buzz about different places and promoting those things on and off campus
• establishing a community ambassador program to educate other students
• reaching out to non-traditional students to involve them since they are already infused in the community
• develop ways to embed student clubs more thoroughly, perhaps with community advisors and make this a part of the strategic plan
• develop faculty reward systems for professors of practice
• develop better databases for better information sharing about what is going on
• develop freshman communities and seminars that require community engagement
• have a goal that Binghamton University will be the most community engaged school in SUNY and in the top 10 in the nation
• do a better job communicating and advertising all of the excellent things we do,
• give experiential learning credit in Gen Ed or major courses directly related to a student’s discipline
• ask the community what it needs from us
The ideas will be brought to the Community Engagement Road Map team as it formulates its proposals.
Stenger’s next presidential forum, on Thursday, Nov. 15, will focus on safety issues on and off campus.