Community engagement in focus for workshop; concept impacts MSU learning, service, research

Contact: Allison Matthews

Lorilee Sandmann gave an Oct. 9 keynote at MSU addressing the importance of community engagement in higher education and how engaged scholarship relates to the university’s three-pronged mission of learning, service and research. (Photo by Logan Kirkland)

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Community engagement and its role in higher education was the focus of a Mississippi State keynote and workshop this week by one of the nation’s leading authorities on engaged scholarship.

Lorilee Sandmann, professor emerita in the Department of Education, Administration and Policy in the University of Georgia’s College of Education, was guest speaker Oct. 9 for an event that targeted faculty, administrators, instructional staff and students. Sandmann also serves as a core reviewer on the National Advisory Panel for the Carnegie Classification for Community Engagement.

Sandmann said the concept of community engagement can be compared to MSU “holding hands” with Mississippi and beyond.

Carnegie defines the term 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. MSU has been recognized by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching with the prestigious Community Engagement Classification.

Sandmann drew comparisons between traditional and engaged scholarship. She said while traditional scholarship breaks new ground in a discipline, engaged scholarship goes a step further to have direct application to broader public issues. Traditional learning answers significant questions in a discipline; engaged serves the same purpose but has increased relevance to public or community issues. Likewise, traditional academic study is reviewed and validated by qualified peers in a discipline, while engaged extends this process to members of the community.

She emphasized that the same indicators of quality for all scholarly work also apply to engaged scholarship, including clear goals and questions; adequate preparation with attention to context, theory/literature and best practices; appropriate methods; significant results; effective communication and dissemination; reflective critique; and ethical practice.

MSU Associate Provost and Interim Dean of the Graduate School Peter Ryan said that while community engagement is not a new concept, it is still relatively new to many faculty who are trying to incorporate its principles into their classroom instruction.

“MSU has a strong tradition of outreach and community engagement. Being a land-grant institution, we are nimble at adapting to these as part of our pedagogy, and MSU Extension provides a tremendous platform for facilitating this incorporation as part of classroom activity,” Ryan said.

“There is tremendous support from the administrative leadership across the university for incorporating community engagement as part of scholarly endeavor. Moreover, there are very passionate people in MSU’s Office of Community Engagement who have encouraged the phenomenal growth of faculty participation across the academy,” Ryan added.

MSU Extension Director Gary Jackson said community engagement is part of MSU’s DNA, going back to its establishment as a land-grant university as a provision of the Morrill Act of 1862, as well as the Hatch Act of 1887 which established agricultural experiment stations in connection to these colleges. He said the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 that established the Cooperative Extension Service ensured that land-grant universities would carry knowledge from the classroom and research lab to communities where this knowledge could help average Americans and be put into practical application.

“We’ve always had that mandate as a part of the land-grant tradition,” Jackson said, emphasizing that it goes beyond just service.

“Service is when I do something for you, but engagement is teaching and learning and trying to get people to adopt an innovation, solve a problem, learn a skill and improve overall quality of life. Extension was the original land-grant unit that was viewed by the faculty as having the responsibility for this, but it’s the responsibility of all faculty to take the classroom experience beyond by carrying expertise to the general public or specific audiences. There are different pathways to community engagement,” Jackson said.

Interim Director of MSU’s Office of Student Leadership and Community Engagement and Center for Community Engaged Learning Meggan Franks said MSU has enjoyed much success in the area of engagement and now is focusing on growth through sharing stories, documenting works and recognizing faculty and staff involved.

“Our goals for the future include improving our storytelling on a national scale. We want to do a better job promoting and capturing the good work we are doing in communities, and move in a direction of supporting efforts such as programs and events that provide for a better understanding of community engagement and engaged scholarship,” Franks said.

Sandmann’s research, teaching, writing, advising and consulting focus on leadership and organizational change in higher education with special emphasis of the institutionalization of community engagement, as well as faculty roles and rewards related to community-engaged scholarship.

For over 45 years, Sandmann held administrative, faculty, extension and outreach positions at the University of Minnesota, Michigan State University, Cleveland State University, and UGA. She is also the former editor of the Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement.

Franks encouraged faculty, staff and students who want to further the conversation on community engagement and engaged scholarship to contact MSU’s Center for Community Engaged Learning at 662-325-2150.

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