The symposium will focus on the importance of university expertise in helping communities.
MANHATTAN, Kan. – The breadth of knowledge and expertise within the walls and buildings of a university might be difficult to fathom, unless you have attended that particular university or have personally witnessed or benefited from an area of research or service that institution provides.
Engagement is an activity that cuts across all mission areas of a university, including research, teaching and service, said David Procter, director of the Center for Engagement and Community Development at Kansas State University. Engagement allows for the work that occurs within those university walls to branch out and meet the needs of more people and communities.
On April 7, K-State will host its annual Engagement Symposium, which will focus on “The Centrality of Engagement in Higher Education: Integrating Engagement across the University.” The free event is open to the public, as well as university faculty, staff and students, and will take place from 9 a.m. to noon at the K-State Student Union.
“In previous symposiums, we’ve hosted meetings focused on K-State engagement in public health, service learning, the learning gardens and a variety of different topics,” Procter said. “This year, we wanted to take a step back and talk about why engagement is central to the university. We have identified and are bringing to campus four outstanding national speakers on this topic.”
Three main characteristics define university engagement, Procter said. The first characteristic is that engagement produces partnerships. When faculty members use their academic expertise in partnership with communities of different sorts, which might include towns, neighborhoods and associations, they are being engaged within those communities.
“When we talk about partnership, we’re talking about more than simply a connection for a research project, and then the faculty member is done with that community,” he said. “It is a sustained, ongoing relationship that is happening between the faculty member and the community.”
The second characteristic of engagement is that all parties involved receive a benefit, Procter said. Faculty members might benefit from community interaction by generating research papers, journal articles, conference presentations, informational websites or any other form of communication within their particular academic interest. Communities, in return, will be able to take the research results to make improvements.
The research must address, therefore, an identified public need for a particular community, he said. This is the third characteristic of engagement.
“It can be addressing economic development issues, public health issues or improving civic engagement among communities,” Procter said. “There is a host of possibilities.”
The Department of Hospitality Management and Dietetics at Kansas State identified one such need through a partnership with the Kansas Department of Education’s Child Nutrition and Wellness program.
“When you look at the foundation of our department (at K-State), which is dietetics practice and preparing tomorrow’s dietitians, we identified this very unique reciprocal opportunity to help both sides of the equation, and in the end help children,” said Kevin Sauer, assistant professor.
The engagement relationship began in 2005 when K-State dietetics faculty members went into the field with materials produced by Child Nutrition and Wellness experts, to teach on topics such as nutrition, food safety and food allergies to child nutrition program operators.
“What we learned was that both sides were stronger because of this partnership,” Sauer said. “We learned firsthand what was going on in the field. We heard from the child nutrition operators and the challenges and successes they experience on a daily basis. In return, they learned about K-State and what we do.”
Since 2009, the partnership has grown exponentially in engagement opportunities, he said. K-State now works with Child Nutrition and Wellness to design surveys, help with data collection and do data analyses. The research results are then applied back into the child nutrition programs so children benefit.
Sauer said the partnership has tremendous impact, as about 360,000 lunches are served each day to Kansas’ children.
The example of engagement is one of many going on at Kansas State. The Office of the Provost and K-State Research and Extension created the Center for Engagement and Community Development in 2006, but Procter said engagement was occurring at K-State even before the center was established.
“Land-grant universities are engaged institutions, almost by definition,” he said.
Using the K-State Research and Extension model of working with communities and neighborhoods, Procter said, was a goal of the center to energize engagement with other disciplines and departments on campus.
More information about the upcoming K-State Engagement Symposium, including the list of featured speakers, can be found at National speakers highlight K-State Engagement Symposium.