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By Stephanie Wilkes

Andrew Furco
Andrew Furco is the University of Minnesota's new associate VP for public engagement.

Brief, Jan. 30, 2008

Andrew Furco brings national and international experience to his new position as associate vice president for public engagement, which he began Jan. 2.

Furco hails from the East Coast but has spent most of the last three decades in California. He earned his bachelor's and master's degrees at UCLA and his Ph.D. in educational administration at UC-Berkeley. During 13 years as Berkeley's director of the International Center for Research on Civic Engagement and Service-Learning, Furco led strategic plans to advance the integration of public engagement across the institution. He led more than 20 research studies on the impacts, implementation, and institutionalization of public engagement initiatives in higher education, teacher education, and K-12 education.

Furco spoke recently about his work and vision for public engagement at the University.

Why Minnesota? I've been studying the role of public engagement in education--both in K-12 and higher education--for almost 20 years, and I have always had great admiration for institutions that want to fulfill their public service mission. In my visits to the University of Minnesota, I saw a real, genuine commitment to engagement--in many ways, the reality meets the rhetoric about [the] importance of engagement. The University's goal to be not only one of the top three research universities in the world, but to achieve that distinction by being an engaged public research university, is very appealing. A lot of research universities support community engagement, but they often see it as a separate program rather than as a strategy for accomplishing the key goals of the academy. At the University of Minnesota, I just feel engagement is becoming a more important central feature of what the University is all about.

I am honored and feel very privileged to be part of the University of Minnesota team. I am excited that engagement is seen as a vital and important part of the University's identity. I am honored to have the opportunity to play the leadership role in this endeavor and I look forward to working with everyone.

What's your vision for the Office of Public Engagement and for engagement at the University in general? I've outlined a 10-point plan that builds off of the excellent ground-breaking work that the Council of Engagement Task Force, the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, and the Council on Public Engagement have done. The plan takes the best of what we know from the research on advancing public engagement in higher education and adapts it to the needs of the University of Minnesota, building on the University's previous engagement work. I strongly support cultivating national and international leadership among the University's engagement directors and managers. I want to tackle the issue of rigor and dig deeper into what distinguishes high quality engaged scholarship from poor engaged scholarship. And certainly having more presence in the community is important to me, having the University be seen as an active participant and member of the community rather than "that university over there."

The Office of Public Engagement (OPE) is a systemwide office. How do all the campuses fit into your overall vision? They are an integral part of the University, and I expect them to figure prominently in all of the engagement efforts. Each campus has a very important role and important responsibility, but each campus is unique and will have specific needs. Each will approach engagement differently, and my job is to work with each one to ensure that it can be successful in all aspects of its engagement efforts.

How are you going to measure success? There are going to be different benchmarks for different aspects of this work. As we know from the institutionalization literature, there are stages of development, and I think different parts of the University are at different stages of development. The success of each of the dimensions of institutional engagement will have to be assessed separately as well as collectively. We then will use these data to make informed decisions on the strengths and weaknesses of our respective engagement strategies in order to make appropriate changes and improvements as the University moves through the stages of institutionalizing public engagement.

What are your passions? I love to do research. My background in both qualitative and quantitative research makes public engagement very appealing to me because it provides many opportunities to blend the two methods. I love to engage with other people in joint ventures and collaborative work. I also love to travel and see new sites. I think this is why I am excited about the work I do--because it blends all these things I am really passionate about.

What do you enjoy in your spare time? Spare time--what's that? Unfortunately I don't have a lot of spare time, but I love the work I do, so I don't mind it too much. I majored in music as an undergrad so I like to keep up with my music...I am getting back into playing the piano, which I try to do every day for at least 10 minutes when I get home. I like to spend time with friends and get to know about their lives and what they are doing--many of my friends are people I work with. I like to read all sorts of things, and my work requires a lot of reading--I buy a lot of non-work-related books but don't get the chance to read many of them. I like plays and going to the theater and museums, seeing new art exhibits--[when I travel,] I tend to take advantage of what the sites have to offer. I infuse [most/many of] the things I enjoy into my work.

What?s the long view? This work is going to take time. We don't become a top engaged research University overnight--this is a transformational process that is going to take sustained commitment.

Even though I sometimes feel like I'm rolling this huge engagement ball up a steep hill, I'm doing it together with many people. You know, we are all working together to roll this ball. That's what makes this work interesting and fulfilling, and that's what has sustained me in this work over the years.


To learn more about the U's Office of Public Engagement, see OPE.
Stephanie Wilkes is a senior in English and linguistics and a communications intern in the Office of Public Engagement. If you have questions or comments, please e-mail .