University of Minnesota
President Eric Kaler talks with Jeanne Zimmer (center) and Joy Rashid about the Broadband Access Project at UROC's second annual Community Day September 20.
Photo: Patrick O'Leary
In the spirit of collaboration
Unique partnership with Northside highlights U’s commitment to neighbors
By Rick Moore
In a large, bright room facing Plymouth Avenue in North Minneapolis, President Eric Kaler and Senior Vice President Robert Jones spoke to community members last September about the U’s partnership with Minneapolis’s Northside community.
But the buzz was across the atrium, where community members and U staff showed off the fruits of that partnership in an open house, explaining new programs that are benefiting Northside residents.
Seven years after the idea of a more concerted University “urban vision” first blossomed, the U’s Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC) has found a home on the Northside, both figuratively and literally. And the second annual Community Day during Kaler's inauguration week was the opportunity to showcase the efforts.
UROC, housed in a welcoming building at 2001 Plymouth Avenue North, is now home to roughly a dozen academically based community programs. Among them are the Center for Early Education and Development’s (CEED) research-based initiatives to help children learn and thrive, the Broadband Access Project’s work to bridge the digital divide, and the Center for Health Equity’s (CHE) work to eliminate health disparities.
“This Urban Research and Outreach Center should be a model for the excellence in engagement of a major research university with its community,” Kaler told guests at the Community Day celebration. “And I’m telling you, in my short time here today, I’m convinced we’re doing many, many, many of the right things, and you should be congratulated.”
A land-grant university in an increasingly urban world
The University, of course, has a rich and ongoing history of outreach to communities all around the state. As a land-grant university, the U is charged with engaging in teaching, research, and extension.
University of Minnesota Extension faculty and staff operate out of 16 regional offices, "extending” their resources to address critical public issues through nonformal, noncredit education.
Likewise, the U has research and outreach centers in Lamberton, Morris, Crookston, Grand Rapids, Rosemount, and Waseca, as well facilities like the Cloquet Forestry Center, Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve, Large Lakes Observatory, and Hormel Institute.
While UROC is a relatively new entity, it’s emblematic of the changing demographics in the state. Whereas just a few decades ago the state’s population was about evenly divided between outstate and metropolitan residents, it’s now predominantly urban and suburban.
And that makes UROC’s mission especially pertinent.
“As the only public, urban land-grant university in the country, we feel a strong sense of obligation to be good citizens to this Northside community,” says Jones (who was recently named president at the University of Albany). “But perhaps more importantly, we have to be good citizens and good neighbors.
“Our whole presence here has always been framed around a vision of partnership, where we work on problems and develop strategies that we mutually agree upon are important to this community.”
The UROC emphasis on collaborative learning and problem solving was underscored in remarks by the center’s executive director, Heidi Lasley Barajas, who called attention to an exhibit in the UROC gallery at the time called “Profiles in Partnership.”
The show, which ran through the end of last year, featured large documentary-style portraits of pairs of people who work together through UROC. Among the pairs featured are CEED director Scott McConnell with Sondra Samuels of the Northside Achievement Zone; CHE director Jasjit Ahluwalia with Demarjoin Murry, a student at DeLaSalle High School; and Barajas with Stella Whitney West, CEO of NorthPoint Health and Wellness.
Adds Jones: “We’re here to work in partnership. The University can’t solve problems [itself] for any community, but we do think we have a responsibility as a land-grant university to leverage our assets [and] our resources in partnership with the assets and resources of this community to solve some of the most complex and challenging problems.”
To learn more about how the University is building stronger urban communities in partnership with North Minneapolis, visit the Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center website.