Engage KSU

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Strategic initiative creates new standard for connecting community and university
 
In a message introducing the university’s 2010-2011 annual report, President Daniel S. Papp described some of the challenges the university faces in becoming a nationally recognized leader in community engagement:
 
“To create a truly engaged university, we know that we need to be in regular communication not only with our faculty, staff and students, but also with citizens in our neighboring communities.  We need to explain how what we do as scholars impacts the lives of our constituents and friends.  We have to develop constructive relationships and productive partnerships to bring new discoveries to light and new dialogues to bear.”    
 
As KSU approaches its half-century mark, the President’s vision is for Kennesaw State to become known as “Georgia’s engaged university.” The Engage KSU initiative is making concrete progress toward that vision. Now in its second year, the wheels are in motion to propel Kennesaw State to new heights in the community engagement arena.
 
Talk to anyone at Kennesaw State for even a brief time, you’re likely to hear the terms “engage” or “engagement” at least once. That reflects both a consciousness and a culture of service among members of the campus community.  Engage KSU seeks to keep those conversations going as it works to create a unified, seamless, and cohesive approach to community engagement.  
 
A team of faculty and staff has been assembled to identify goals, develop structures, assess resources and plan the way forward for institutionalizing community engagement at Kennesaw State.  As an initial step, the team adopted the Carnegie Foundation definition of community engagement for the Engage KSU initiative:
 
“Engage KSU promotes collaboration between Kennesaw State University and its larger communities — local, state/regional, national and global — for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity.”
 
“This definition reflects the work the Kennesaw State community has already done to develop relationships and help improve their communities,” says Maureen McCarthy, faculty executive assistant to President Papp, professor of psychology and Engage KSU project chair. “The definition helps to clarify the reciprocal nature of community engagement. In other words, the activity benefits both the community and the university.”
 
Current plans include a university-wide office of community engagement; a website featuring examples of exemplary engagement and the experiences of Kennesaw State students, faculty and staff; service and partnership opportunities and linkages between various university colleges, departments and programs.
 
Jorge Pérez, former faculty executive assistant to the president and associate professor of information systems, and Raj Veliyath, faculty assistant to the provost and professor of management and entrepreneurship, guided Engage KSU from inception. In the project’s first year, Pérez, Veliyath and a dedicated group of faculty of staff began to lay the foundation for the work, including organizing planning teams and developing a model of community engagement for KSU.  Once a framework was established, the leadership team presented the initiative to key campus constituencies, culminating in two campus-wide town hall meetings in November 2011 and January 2012. Pérez was succeeded by McCarthy, who will lead the initiative during the 2012-2013 academic year.
 
This year, Engage KSU’s leaders will continue to develop aspects of the larger initiative. Five teams – teaching, research, scholarship, partnerships and networks, and structures and resources – are working to create specific elements that will constitute a unified effort to link the community to the university.
 
“We are unifying the collective efforts of the university to create a one-stop shop for community-engagement,” said McCarthy. “The university currently offers exemplary projects and programs like the collaborative partnership between WellStar College and MUST Ministries to provide quality health care to under-served populations within the community; the Math Circles summer camp for area high school students that math department Interim Chair Sean Ellermeyer operates; or the Kennesaw Community Chorus that utilizes campus facilities and to which music Associate Professor Leslie Blackwell gives so freely of her time.Ultimately,Engage KSU will provide additional infrastructure and support for these and many more activities.”
 
Models of Engagement
 
In its initial pass at assessing peer and aspirational institutions to determine what is needed to enhance engagement at Kennesaw State, the Engage KSU structures and resources team determined the university should move away from the "distributed model" that has developed over the years. Instead, the team, co-chaired by Keisha Hoerrner, associate dean of University College, and Brian Wooten, director of the Center for Student Leadership, recommended engagement activities at Kennesaw State be centralized within a specific structure, such as an office, a center or an institute.
 
“We feel an obligation to tell the KSU community what we've been working on for the past year, where we are, and where we are heading,” Hoerrner said. “Many faculty, staff, and students attended last fall's town hall meetings, and our goal is to update them on the work since those pivotal events.”
 
KSU will soon launch a new website designed to feature engagement efforts across the university and highlight outstanding examples of student, faculty and staff engagement. 
“An internally focused website will allow everyone involved to communicate more fully to the campus community,” Hoerrner said.
 
In the meantime, team leaders working to establish goals and standards in three critical areas of community engagement — scholarship and creative activity; teaching; and community service — share their thoughts on where things are heading with regard to engagement.
 
Engaged scholarship, research and creative activity
Co-Chairs:LeeAnn Lands, associate professor of history, and Arjan Raven, associate professor of information systems
 
“One of our first goals is to showcase the important research and creative activity faculty and students are already doing with partners locally and around the world,” said Lands, whose research into metropolitan housing and culture and project in Cartersville’s Summer Hill neighborhood has been cited as an outstanding model of engaged scholarship. 
“Long term, we plan to create infrastructure that will offer continuous and high levels of support for faculty and students who are doing research and creative activity with and for community partners.”
 
Lands cited the Center for Statistics and Analytical Services, led by Jennifer Priestly, associate professor of statistics. The center provides statistical analysis for the university, regional companies and governmental agencies. As a consultant to companies and agencies, it also provides training in statistics and in statistics software, statistical modeling, process improvement studies and sampling.
 
“Through partnership with external corporations, governments, and other entities such as Georgia Power and the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, the center develops projects that result in direct benefits to the partner,” Lands said. “At the same time, the projects enhance the academic discipline and the curriculum, as well as help train undergraduates and graduates.”
 
Engaged Teaching
Chair:Lynn Boettler, assistant professor of educational leadership
 
“Our goal is to identify, recognize and advance engaged teaching practices at Kennesaw State,” said Boettler.  “We embrace teaching and learning that builds reciprocal relations with our global and local communities.”
 
Boettler noted, for example, the Department of First-Year Programs’ “Be the Change” course. The three-credit first-year seminar invites first-year students to learn academic success skills while making a difference in their communities.  The students investigate a world problem, and offer solutions that culminate in a final project requiring academic and life skills relevant to multiple disciplines and careers. Through these projects, students strive to effect change regarding relevant community issues such as homelessness, poverty, human rights, sex trafficking, pollution, childhood diseases, illiteracy, and educational inequality. 
 
In addition, Boettler said, Sandra Bird, professor of art education, has been modeling community engaged teaching in her "Intercultural Curriculum Models" course for more than 10 years.  Her students research, design, teach and assess units focused on non-western arts/cultures in local elementary and middle schools.
 
Engaged Service
Co-chairs:Sylvia Inman, assistant director of Volunteer KSU and community service, and Anne Hicks-Coolick, associate professor of social work
 
The engaged service team is working to build opportunities and capacity for students, faculty and staff to become engaged in community service.  For example, Volunteer Kennesaw State presents an annual Volunteer Fair.  Last September, more than 40 non-profit organizations attended the fair, where more than 500 students learned about the many ways they might engage with the local community. 
 
The involvement of the Kennesaw State community in the local community over the years illustrates a long-standing culture of service at the university. 
 
“Fourteen years ago my employment at Kennesaw State began with ‘The Year of Honoring Service’,” says Sylvia Inman, assistant director of Volunteer KSU and community service coordinator. “This validates KSU as having been historically ‘engaged’ in service programs, projects and activities for many years.  The Engage KSU initiative will provide a formal process to identify, advance and recognize staff, faculty, alumni and students who are engaged in service.”
 
 
-- Sabbaye McGriff