MSU Awards Recognize Outstanding University-Community Partnerships

Two recent events represented the pinnacle of university-community efforts by recognizing faculty, staff, students, and external partners working together to produce diverse benefits for others in their communities.

The All-University Awards Convocation on February 4, and the MSU Outreach and Engagement Awards Ceremony on February 19, recognized people and partnerships of distinction in community-engaged research, teaching, service, and creative activity.

"So many good people go about their work quietly, while creating significant positive outcomes that contribute to our local communities and beyond. These awards feature some of those outstanding partnerships and give us inspiration for what happens when we work together," said Laurie A. Van Egeren, interim associate provost for University Outreach and Engagement.

Michigan State University has one of the most extensive academic support structures in the nation for recognizing exemplary high-quality community-engaged scholarship and outreach activities.

Recipients of the 2020 awards are:

Community Engagement Scholarship Award

  • Kyle Powys Whyte, College of Arts and Letters and College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and
  • Sustainable Development Institute, College of Menominee Nation, Keshena, Wisconsin

Whyte has partnered with Chris Caldwell of the Menominee Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) at the College of Menominee Nation for close to a decade. SDI, founded in 1994 as one of the first Tribally-founded and supported research institutions, serves the Menominee people's efforts to learn from their history and culture about sustainability, support planning for the future, and engage institutions and communities outside of the Tribe. The partnership supports indigenous peoples' preparedness for climate change through a diverse portfolio of research, outreach, and education projects, particularly at the community level.

The award was presented by Teresa A. Sullivan, Interim Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, and Stephen Hsu, Senior Vice President for Research and Innovation at the annual MSU Awards Convocation on February 4.

Learn more about the partnership

The MSU Outreach and Engagement award recipients are:

(From left to right) Laurie Van Egeren, Kyle Powys Whyte, Theodore Curry

Distinguished Partnership Award for Community-Engaged Research

  • Kyle Powys Whyte, College of Arts and Letters and College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and
  • Sustainable Development Institute, College of Menominee Nation, Keshena, Wisconsin

Dr. Whyte's partnership with Chris Caldwell of the Menominee Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) on research and outreach supporting indigenous preparedness for climate change also received the MSU 2020 Community Engagement Scholarship Award. Please see above.

(From left to right) Laurie Van Egeren, Katie Mann, Dionne O'Dell, Judith Stoddart

Distinguished Partnership Award for Community-Engaged Creative Activity

  • Dionne O'Dell, College of Arts and Letters and
  • 4th Wall Company, Livonia, Michigan

O'Dell partners with the 4th Wall Company in the metro Detroit area, and is the advisor of the Sense-Ability Ensemble, a student organization that conducts regular theatrical workshops for neurodiverse students, including those with autism spectrum disorders, through a ten-week residency program. Led by 4th Wall instructors and MSU students, the workshops culminate in a final performance for friends and family. This partnership has developed two world premiere productions that tour special education classrooms around Michigan: Farm! A Musical Experience and Soda Pop Shop. These productions contribute to a wider understanding of the arts, health, and social/emotional well-being. Additional partners include the Oily Cart Theatre in London, Lincoln Center Education, and the Trusty Sidekick Theater in NYC.

(From left to right) Laurie Van Egeren, Margaret Holtschlag, Shari Dann, Sonya Gunnings-Moton

Distinguished Partnership Award for Community-Engaged Teaching

  • Shari L. Dann, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and
  • Annie's BIG Nature Lesson, St. Johns, Michigan

Since 2007, this partnership has offered teacher leadership professional development to more than 447 teachers, who then worked with local communities (more than 17,000 elementary students and 185 other partners) for watershed stewardship. The partnership has produced numerous peer-reviewed articles, case studies generated by teachers, a PBS-aired video, presentations at environmental education conferences, an invited policy article for the Governor's State of the Great Lakes report, and best-practice guides co-developed with other institutional leaders throughout the state.

(From left to right) Laurie Van Egeren, Shelly Neal, Sarah Winslow, Marisa Fisher, Connie Sung, Kathy Wilbur

Distinguished Partnership Award for Community-Engaged Service

  • Connie Sung and Marisa Fisher, College of Education and
  • Michigan Rehabilitation Services and Ingham Intermediate School District

For individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), the anxiety and obstacles experienced during the transition from youth to adulthood can be overwhelming. In 2016, MSU faculty members Connie Sung and Marisa Fisher, in collaboration with intermediate school district and vocational rehabilitation agencies, initiated Spartan Project SEARCH at MSU, a program that helps transition-aged youth with IDD to overcome some of those obstacles. MSU is the first large public university to host the international Project SEARCH program. The partnership involves multiple partners and large groups of people (including Peckham, Inc., Community Mental Health, Bureau of Service for Blind Persons and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services) successfully collaborating to improve the quality of life of individuals with disabilities, and to embrace a more inclusive and diverse campus.

(From left to right) Laurie Van Egeren, Hiram Fitzgerald, Ann Cameron, Holly Brophy-Herb

Michigan State University Community Engagement Scholarship Lifetime Achievement Award

  • Hiram E. Fitzgerald, University Distinguished Professor, College of Social Science, and former associate provost, University Outreach and Engagement

Hiram Fitzgerald's tireless dedication to community-engaged scholarship has advanced the University's reputation as a national and international leader in the scholarship of engagement. His major areas of funded research include the study of infant and family development in community contexts, the impact of fathers on early child development, implementation of systemic community models of organizational process and change, the etiology of alcoholism, the digital divide and youth use of technologies, and the scholarship of engagement.

As associate provost, Fitzgerald's vision, energy, and creativity shaped what has become one of the most respected offices of academic support for university-community collaboration in the country.

Learn more about Hiram Fitzgerald's research and recognitions

Frequently Asked Questions about the MSU Outreach and Engagement Awards

What is the process?

Spartan Volunteer Service Award Winners -- (From left to right) Laurie Van Egeren, Kiersten Walsworth (Lyman Briggs), Justice Bass (Social Science), Nick Piner (Lyman Briggs), Renee Brown, K.C. Keyton

The university-wide Community Engagement Scholarship Award (CESA) is conferred annually on an MSU faculty or academic staff member in recognition of highly engaged community-based scholarship collaborations that positively impact both the community and scholarship. The honor is bestowed by university administration officials during the annual all-university MSU Awards Convocation held in February.

Nominations are solicited in four categories: community-engaged research, creative activity, teaching, and service. The upcoming deadline will be in October 2020 to submit for the 2021 CESA Award.

Finalists for the CESA are recognized with an MSU Distinguished Partnership Award.

The MSU Community Engagement Scholarship Lifetime Achievement Award recognizes individuals of outstanding sustained accomplishment over the span of a career.

The Spartan Volunteer Service Awards recognize students who volunteer 100-plus hours or more in one year. The program is run by the Center for Community Engaged Learning. The UOE Awards Ceremony recognizes students with the greatest number of volunteer hours, and bestows a stipend to the community partner organization selected by each of those students.

Where can I find more information?

CESA instructions are posted by the Office of the Provost each year in April, with submission deadlines due each October.

Information about UOE awards can be found at

  • Written by Carla Hills, University Outreach and Engagement
  • Photographs courtesy of Paul Phipps, University Outreach and Engagement

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