National Leadership in Discourse about the Scholarship of Engagement

Karen Bruns

"The work of many faculty, departments, and units at Michigan State demonstrate the best practices of engagement scholarship. MSU was an earlier leader in demonstrating this work through their partnership with the W. K. Kellogg Foundation in the 1990s. Michigan State became an early partner with Ohio State, Penn State, University of Wisconsin – Extension and University of Georgia on the National Outreach Scholarship Conference in the early 2000s. That conference evolved into the Engagement Scholarship Consortium, which involves universities from across the United States and several other countries. Members from Michigan State have been leaders in the APLU Council on Engagement and Outreach. As Michigan State has articulated and implemented its vision for scholarly engagement, it has informed and served as a model for faculty and universities across the country."

Karen Bruns
Assistant Professor, Extension
College of Education and Human Ecology; College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences
Ohio State University
Founding Member, Academy of Community Engagement Scholarship
Engagement Scholarship Consortium

The 1990s was a period of rapid growth with regard to national discourse about outreach and engagement in higher education. Notable figures like Ernest Boyer and Ernest Lynton wrote important essays and articles; the Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land-Grant Universities produced a series of influential reports; keynotes and papers on the subject were increasingly included in conference programs; and new journals and associations began to form.

During the same period, faculty committees at MSU were working to conceptualize outreach and engagement and identify means for its assessment. As a movement to advocate for community engagement in higher education began to take shape, the University was increasingly recognized for its leadership with regard to institutional alignment in support of outreach and engagement.

At the start of the 21st century few institutions could claim to be as involved in national conversations about the future of outreach and engagement in higher education as Michigan State. With new leadership from Associate Provost Fitzgerald, MSU brought a fresh energy and direction to these conversations, providing a particularly strong voice for research-intensive public universities that embrace and align themselves to an engagement mission. Drawing on this expertise and influence, the University has participated in and undertaken a number of initiatives that continue to impact the landscape of community engagement in higher education.

Pilot Study for Carnegie Community Engagement Classification. In the early 2000s the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching began development of a new elective Community Engagement Classification. Acknowledging that most national rankings of universities overlook the significant work and investments of partnering with communities, the Foundation sought to develop a classification that would invite institutions to be assessed at the institutional level for their outreach and engagement work.

In 2005, MSU was one of 13 colleges and universities invited to assist the Foundation to develop a set of indicators and a framework for the classification. Fitzgerald and Diane Zimmerman, NCSUE director emeritus, represented MSU in the pilot project and were the primary authors of the MSU report.

In 2006, Carnegie selected MSU as one of the first institutions in the nation to be designated as a "community-engaged university" using its new Community Engagement Classification criteria. The selection included recognition in curricular engagement as well as outreach and partnerships—the highest achievement possible within the classification framework. After a trial and refinement period between 2006 and 2010, the Community Engagement Classification now takes place on a five-year cycle. MSU has successfully defended its Community-Engaged University status for 2015-2020.

Activities with National/International Organizations. UOE represents MSU, and in some cases takes a leadership role, in a number of cross-organizational bodies that focus on the advancement of university outreach and engagement. Among other things, these collaborations work on defining, assessing, benchmarking, classifying, and advocating for outreach and engagement.

The Engagement Scholarship Consortium is composed of higher education institutions working to promote strong university-community partnerships that are anchored in the rigor of scholarship and designed to help build community capacity. Dr. Fitzgerald was instrumental in helping this organization incorporate and served as its founding president through September 2015. During the eight years of his leadership the Consortium grew from seven to 33 institutional members, including universities outside the United States. MSU continues to be a vital voice within the ESC, as Assistant Provost for University-Community Partnerships Laurie Van Egeren represents MSU on the ESC board of directors and NCSUE director Burton Bargerstock serves on the organization's Conference Leadership Committee. Bargerstock and Ghada Georgis, associate director UOE's Communication and Information Technology Department, also serve on ESC's Online Communication and Community Committee. UOE played a primary role in the development of ESC's Emerging Engagement Scholars Workshop (EESW). See p. 43 in this issue for more information about the EESW.

Transformations in Higher Education

In 2010, MSU Press launched the Transformations in Higher Education: The Scholarship of Engagement book series. The series is designed to provide a forum for engaged scholars whose work better fits monograph or book length outlets than journal articles. It premiered with the two-volume Handbook on Engaged Scholarship in 2010 and has subsequently published six additional volumes with others currently in press.

Fitzgerald and Bargerstock were part of a "think tank" that led to the founding of the Academy of Community Engagement Scholarship (ACES) in 2012. ACES recognizes and contributes to high quality scholarship that, in collaboration with participating community partners, has a positive impact on complex societal needs and issues. ACES provides recommendations, on request, to inform local, regional, national, and international research and policy agendas. In recognition of his long career of contributions, Fitzgerald was inducted with the inaugural class of the Academy in 2014, and currently serves as vice president of its board of directors.

A longtime member of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, MSU has been active with its Council on Engagement and Outreach (CEO) for two decades. CEO is composed of administrators responsible for outreach, engagement, community development, extension, and related functions at their universities. The Council provides a forum for members to discuss and take collaborative action on issues relevant to institutional efforts in community engagement. Over the past several years, Fitzgerald and Bargerstock have worked on CEO committees studying institutional measurement of outreach and engagement, and each has also been elected to serve on CEO's governing executive committee. A recent accomplishment of the Council was a white paper elucidating an argument for the centrality of engagement within higher education, authored by Fitzgerald and leaders from several other universities and published in 2012 (see article). More recently, under the auspices of CEO, Van Egeren prepared an infographic drawn from her study of the numbers of associations/networks, journals, awards programs and other features of what she termed "the engagement landscape" in September 2015.

Valerie Osland Paton

"In global discussions about how universities collaborate with communities to address pressing societal concerns, Michigan State University is often cited as an exemplar. Over the past decade, MSU Outreach and Engagement has contributed important foundational and practical leadership to demonstrate how to leverage and sustain healthy partnerships. The Engagement Scholarship Consortium (ESC) is an international collaboration of universities focused on the scholarship of engagement. In addition, Hiram Fitzgerald served as the first author of 'The Centrality of Engagement in Higher Education' (published in the Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement), which has become a seminal scholarly position statement that is broadly referenced by researchers and practitioners. MSU's efforts to define, measure and communicate faculty contributions to engagement have been utilized and replicated by numerous institutions."

Valerie Osland Paton, Ph.D.
Professor and Program Chairperson, Higher Education Research
Texas Tech University
Chair-Elect, APLU Council on Engagement and Outreach

Scanning the Engagement Landscape

Adapted from Van Egeren, L. A. (2015). Scanning the engagement landscape: University engagement by the numbers. Infographic produced by Michigan State University in collaboration with the Council on Outreach and Engagement of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.

The International Association for Research on Service-Learning and Community Engagement (IARSLCE) promotes the development and dissemination of research on service-learning and community engagement internationally and across all levels of the education system. MSU has played an active role with IARSLCE from its early years. Center for Service-Learning and Civic Engagement director emeritus Karen McKnight Casey organized its international conference on the MSU campus in 2005 and co-edited its proceedings volume with CSLCE colleagues the following year. In 2013, Burt Bargerstock was appointed to the IARSLCE board of directors, which elected him to serve as its Chair in 2015-2016.

MSU faculty and academic specialists are regular contributors to the state and national conferences and meetings of Michigan Campus Compact and national Campus Compact. MSU has hosted workshops in Compact settings on topics ranging from the assessment of student engagement to best practices for working with community partners.

David E. Procter

"In 2005, our university provost recognized the importance of higher education's engagement mission and worked to expand our work in this area. As K-State scanned colleges and universities with well-developed engagement infrastructure, Michigan State University's Outreach and Engagement office caught our attention. We invited Hiram Fitzgerald and Burt Bargerstock to K-State to tell us more about the engagement work at MSU. They literally provided a roadmap for the development of our Center for Engagement and Community Development at K-State. Shortly after our center was established, we realized the need to benchmark our campus engagement efforts. Again, we turned to Michigan State University and were introduced to the National Collaborative for the Study of University Engagement and the Outreach and Engagement Measurement Instrument. Burt Bargerstock was extremely helpful in assisting us to think about how to benchmark campus engagement—the kinds of questions to ask, the kinds of data to collect and how best to collect those data. Burt also was instrumental in connecting us to a national network of university engagement offices who were working to benchmark engagement on their campuses. We have relied heavily on Burt and the network as we built our own benchmarking—the K-State Engagement Benchmarking Tool. We are indebted to MSU for its assistance as we pursue and strengthen engagement at Kansas State University."

David E. Procter
Director, Center for Engagement and Community Development
Kansas State University
Member, Executive Committee, Engagement Scholarship Consortium
(Consultation Client)

MSU's emphasis on scholarship-driven community engagement has resulted in numerous invited presentations and consultations about the MSU model. The University's regional, national, and international reputation has directly benefitted from this attention as other institutions have sought to learn about MSU's experience. Universities have invited MSU and UOE leaders to consult and/or give formal targeted talks on their campuses or in East Lansing about community engagement scholarship and related institutional alignment issues. These universities include institutions in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, and Canada, as well as the US. During the same period, dozens of individual leaders have also made short visits to meet with UOE staff about the MSU model.

  • Written by Linda Chapel Jackson, University Outreach and Engagement

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