Campuswide series offers ways to strengthen public engagement


More than 160 faculty and staff participated in the yearlong Conceptualizing Public Engagement series, and their involvement will help shape how the University of Michigan strengthens its partnerships with audiences beyond campus.

A coalition of units across campus, led by the Office of Academic Innovation, helped organize 11 working meetings over the past year to identify ways the university engages with the public — an exercise that aligns with President Mark Schlissel’s efforts to expand public engagement at U-M.

“Scholars are engaging in a variety of ways, from adopting community-based methods to translating, disseminating and applying their findings,” said Tabbye Chavous, professor of psychology and education, and director at the National Center for Institutional Diversity, who participated in the series.

Ideas and comments from the series’ participants were collected and compiled, and some common themes emerged.

Many attendees cited funding as a critical barrier to public engagement, so the Academic Innovation team identified more than 60 internal funding opportunities available to faculty and staff in their pursuit of public engagement work. These funding opportunities will soon be featured on the university’s Public Engagement & Impact website.

Another outcome from the series is a draft framework that captures the many ways in which U-M faculty and staff conduct public engagement, from communications to policy to community-based research. This framework could help the university develop a common language and shared understanding of public engagement, identify areas of opportunity or collaboration, and also consider important elements for future public engagement efforts.

Many attendees also noted infrastructure as an important component for strengthening public engagement.

The Office of the Provost, the Office of the Vice President for Government Relations, the Edward Ginsberg Center for Community Service and Learning and others across campus recently began a pilot project called Connecting Michigan to strengthen the university’s infrastructure for community and civic engagement. It builds upon and coordinates existing decentralized inventories in an effort to advance the university’s mission and amplify its contributions to the public good.

This year’s Enriching Scholarship conference, which took place May 6-9, also featured a new public engagement track that included 10 workshops and talks to help faculty, staff and students leverage technology to enhance their work outside academia and in real-world learning situations.

The public engagement sessions covered topics such as the technology of community engagement, managing scholarly presence, using social media, online courses and establishing publication platforms.

Feedback from faculty and staff who participated in the 11 working meetings will play an important role as the university aims to expand its public engagement efforts.

“When we invest in reciprocal community engagement efforts and infrastructure, we enhance opportunities for student learning, faculty research and teaching, and the university’s overall contribution to the public good,” said Mary Jo Callan, director of the Ginsberg Center.


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