Posted:December 6, 2013
Memorial University Context
Memorial University is the only university in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, with 19,000 students on two main campuses: St. John’s Campus and Grenfell Campus. The university describes itself as student-focused and dedicated to experiential learning. Accordingly, Memorial’s most recent Strategic Plan (2007) reinforces a commitment to communityengagement, making reference to engagement in research that bridges academic and community contexts. Doreen Neville, Associate Vice-President (Academic) of Planning, Priorities, and Programs, led the process toward the development of a Framework for Teaching and Learning, launched in 2011. The development of this framework involved input from a number of stakeholders, including community members, and the framework itself reflects a desire from students and educators to integrate community engagement into both teaching and research. Notably, a new Office of Public Engagement, was established in 2011, in response to a growing need to establish a framework and plan for Memorial’s significant public engagement activities. The following year, Memorial University released its Public Engagement Framework, designed to support the university’s movement toward deeper engagement with local communities. The framework’s development was led by Dr. Rob Greenwood, Memorial’s Exexcutive Director, Public Engagement. The Framework is the result of a major consultation process that included significant internal and external participation. Dr. Greenwood is also Executive Director of the the Leslie Harris Centre of Regional Policy and Development, a unit that links the people and organizations of the province with university teaching and research expertise, particularly in the areas of public policy and regional development. The Harris Centre’s most recent five-year Strategic Plan (2010-2015) complements the public engagement framework and highlights the need to generate even greater capacity for community engagement at Memorial University, including fostering commitment to community and regional engagement.
Challenges and Opportunities
One of the main tools developed to broker community-university relationships is Yaffle.ca. Using this tool, community and university partners are able to create profiles detailing needs, interests, and areas of expertise. Since its public launch in February 2009, there have been over 140,000 searches on Yaffle.ca. The tool also facilitates training connections for graduate students looking for advisors, thesis topics and/or internships, and has users from government, community and media. Notably, other institutions have taken interest in the tool, including the College of the North Atlantic and the University of New Brunswick. In addition to its current functionality, Yaffle is currently undergoing a redevelopment process which will significantly expand the tools ability to support public engagement relationships. Other Memorial departments, centres and units have also taken an interest in supporting the development of a culture of community-university engagement, including, but not limited to:
- The Labrador Institute, mandated to support community engagement in research
- The Newfoundland and Labrador Centre for Applied Health Research, which aims to foster dialogue between university faculty and researchers and health knowledge users
- The Genesis Group, Inc., which acts as the university’s connector with the business community’s interests
Focus on Reward and Development
The centres and departments listed above, and many others, have worked toward institutionalizing community engagement and developing the culture and infrastructure required to recognize and reward community-engaged scholarship. Gaining Senate support for the Public Engagement Framework was one instrumental step toward greater recognition of the need for quality community-university partnership in service of the public good;in addition, other efforts towards enhanced CES include, but are not limited to:
- Offering funding to kick start public engagement projects and relationships.
- The creation of Engage Memorial Week, an annual celebration of public engagement at Memorial.
- Holding conferences and workshops relating to the value of community-engaged scholarship, including a 2009 workshop with keynote speaker Dr. Lorilee Sandmann on “The Scholarship of Engagement: Understanding it, Doing It, Documenting It, and Rewarding it”
- Offering funding and scholarships for applied research relating to public policy and regional development, including a student research fund, and an applied research fund for staff, faculty or students
- Holding a series of regional workshops, which connect faculty, staff and students with regional stakeholders around issues of regional concern
- Organizing “Memorial Presents” public lectures three times per year with university researchers and university and/or community panelists presenting on issues of community interest (e.g. fishery, education, environment)
- Hosting CUExpo 2013, the Canadian-led international community-university partnerships conference, on its Grenfell Campus
- The Centre for Applied Health Research helped to organize a conference entitled “Building Healthy Communities: Bringing Health & Wellness to the Community Planning Table” in 2011 which attracted a wide array of community and academic attendees and led to the receipt of funding from the Department of Health and Community Services to allow for the expansion of the centre’s collaborative aims
- Publishing a visual guide to public engagement in January 2013, which provides more information about Memorial’s orientation and commitment to mutually beneficial partnerships with community, government and industry