Conference recap: Community engagement and collective impact

Geneseo is a member of Campus Compact, a national coalition of colleges and universities dedicated to creating vibrant, healthy communities. CC welcomed Geneseo and other member institutions at the Eastern Region Campus Compact Conference October 15-16 in Newark, NJ in hopes of advancing the understanding of collective impact and community engagement.

I attended with assistant professor of English Kristen Gentry, and we learned about the origins of the term “collective impact” and heard some best practices from colleges doing everything from researching brain health for local seniors to hosting after-school tutoring programs in public housing.

The framing questions for the two days were:

  • What innovative ideas are advancing higher education’s community engagement practices?
  • In what ways can the collective impact framework inform community engagement strategies and programs in higher education?
  • How are place-based consortia involving faculty and students in ways that produce shared benefit?
  • How are campuses assessing the effectiveness of such community-engaged scholarship, service-learning courses, partnerships, and community service activities?

I think the most valuable part of the conference, and the most engaging, was a summit on collective impact hosted by Jeff Edmonson, director of StriveTogether, a Cincinnati-based organization that supports the success of every child from cradle to career. StriveTogether is a goal-oriented coalition of organizations that aligns existing resources to increase impact by using data to determine what will work best.

The four principles of Strive’s Theory of Action are: engage the community, focus on eliminating locally defined disparities, develop a culture of continuous improvement, and leverage existing assets. Basically, don’t reinvent the wheel and maximize the impact of all efforts.

Hearing about Strive and from other colleges provided some guidance for our potential to link SUNY Geneseo with the Red Hook community and how to navigate this idea of community engagement. I think student teaching through our School of Education and courses that offer valuable research to the community will be a good place to start, and will open more doors for collective impact with the organizations in the community, and the resources provided at ERCC offer quite a sturdy baseline to get started.

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