Kari B. Jensen
PhD, Associate Professor of Global Studies and Geography, Hofstra University
PhD, Assistant Professor of Health Professions, Hofstra University
Community Engagement: What Is It and Why Do We Need It?
In an era when evidence-based practice is becoming the standard in fields ranging from education to social work to health care, participation in evidence-generation is essential to being represented in practice. Additionally, in fields like engineering and computer science and other problem-solving fields, the problems that are identified and the solutions produced depend on the visibility and representation of problems and problem-solvers. This is at the core of community engagement at universities: including communities in identifying and prioritizing concerns, needs, and problems that universities can partner to address.
Hofstra’s Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) leads the way in community engagement on campus, establishing relationships with community members and community organizations in the local area to address pressing needs. CCE takes a holistic approach to engagement, offering internships for students to work with community organizations, providing forums for community members to be involved at Hofstra and benefit from our resources, and establishing support networks for faculty and students to be involved in the local community.
Community-Based Research Committee
Five years ago, Professors Greg Maney and Mario Murillo, then co-directors of the CCE, and several members of the advisory board of CCE decided that we should form a committee on community-based research. The first meeting of the committee, held in November 2011, included seven faculty and six students. The description of the committee’s mission was as follows: “The committee will locate, connect, and support Hofstra faculty either interested in or already engaged in community-based research. Efforts will be made to involve Hofstra students, secure increased financial support, and develop opportunities for reflective lesson sharing.” Student interns of CCE reached out to faculty members on the committee, asking us to identify colleagues believed to have conducted community-based research. In line with definitions used by others, we defined community-based research as such: “Community-based research is generally regarded as a collaborative project that involves community members in designing, conducting, analyzing, and/or using research as well as attempts to contribute to community empowerment.” The interns then asked faculty members to fill out a brief survey drafted by the committee, answering questions about our primary research interests, and more specifically asking for a description of community-based research projects that we had been involved with.
At our first meeting, several ideas for future events were discussed, such as holding a community forum, forming multi-faculty member projects around issues of shared interest, holding lunch meetings where interested faculty and students could network with community-based organizations, identifying community-based research projects beyond those conducted by Hofstra faculty that students could participate in, and evaluating CCE-based community partnerships. In the spring semester of 2012, Professors Margaret Abraham, Kari Jensen and Greg Maney organized a community-based research committee lunch meeting where 11 faculty and one student participated. Everyone introduced their community-based research accomplishments and interests, and we discussed possible arenas for future cooperation and student involvement. We decided to start collecting resources of interest to anyone conducting community-based research, such as information on the Institutional Review Board (IRB), and resources from NSF and NEH. At our following meetings, we delegated work among our members, such as collecting material needed for a website on community-based research, which would be located under a dropdown menu option on the CCE website (hofstra.edu/cce). We worked with the then director of the IRB at Hofstra, Professor Richard O’Brien, to make sure we were informed about and could give our input on Hofstra procedures for research with human subjects, and we took advice from faculty with diverse experiences within the realm of community-based research locally and globally.
Hofstra’s Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) leads the way in community engagement on campus, establishing relationships with community members and community organizations in the local area to address pressing needs.
Some members of our committee had heard other faculty express rather skeptical views, wondering whether the community-based research committee would be another “policing” institution similar to the IRB, to which we replied that our intent was rather to be a facilitator for community-based research for faculty and students, and to build a web-based resource that would guide and assist such research. We decided that our website should include resources such as links to the IRB at Hofstra, sample syllabi for courses with a community-based research component, template forms for informed consent, a list of Hofstra faculty conducting community-based research and a short description of their research projects, as well as a corresponding list of community-based organizations involved in research with our faculty and students, so as to protect our community partners from unproductive overlap among research projects and avoid misuse of their time and resources. Professor Christopher Niedt was instrumental in establishing the community-based research website at Hofstra, assisted by CCE graduate fellow Rhys Schneider. Since that time, the website has been maintained by other CCE graduate fellows and CCE directors, as well as the chairs of the community-based research committee.
Community Connections Dinner
After the website was established, the committee began expressing a desire to organize a networking dinner event with community partners, i.e., representatives of local community-based organizations. In the spring of 2016, the committee organized the first Community Connections Dinner in which about 40 community representatives, faculty, and students from Hofstra were involved. The dinner was sponsored by CCE, and we and Assistant Professor of Health Professions Martine Hackett were responsible for planning this event, assisted by CCE graduate fellow
At the dinner, Provost Gail Simmons welcomed all with a warm speech on the importance of Hofstra’s engagement with its neighbors in the areas adjacent to our campus. These areas are economically challenged compared to the hometowns of most of our faculty, students, and staff. Only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches, so we approached this networking dinner as a forum to listen to each other, and first and foremost as an opportunity for faculty and students to listen to our guests from community-based organizations, so that we could learn what their needs are for cooperation with us. Jeannine Maynard, LCSW, co-facilitator of the Greater Uniondale Area Action Coalition (GUAAC), gave an inspiring PowerPoint presentation about how GUAAC and Hofstra faculty and students have cooperated to attain their common goal of empowering residents in Uniondale to have an increased voice in town and county decision making, providing a model for how good partnerships can improve the well-being of communities.
After the welcome and presentations, community members at each table spoke about their organizations, their specific ongoing and past projects, and their needs for assistance from faculty and students. Messages we heard included the positive experiences community members and organizations had with Hofstra faculty, such as legal assistance from our Law School. But concerns were also raised about the need to establish lasting connections between community organizations and members, faculty, and Hofstra University as a whole. An interesting outcome of the dinner was that community organizations also had the opportunity to network among themselves and support one another’s mission.
We have been in communication with several faculty and representatives of community-based organizations, following up in an attempt to link community-based organizations and faculty in a meaningful way. We continue to work to identify potential partnerships and to establish helpful infrastructure to facilitate those partnerships’ success and sustainability. The creation of the position of vice provost for scholarship and engagement is a heartening development that we feel will improve the impact the committee can have across the University and with our community partners. Our mission is and will continue to be to provide support to faculty, community partners, and students in their pursuit of equitable community-based research that is essential to the generation of new and valuable knowledge. At its heart, this is Hofstra University’s highest calling – and it should be the highest calling of any university.