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Celebrating public engagement

By Stephanie Wilkes

Angela Dawson
Angela Dawson, cofounder and director of the Northside Food Project, is the keynote speaker at the U's Public Engagement Day April 22 from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Coffman Union. To attend, see Public Engagement Day 2008.

From Brief, April 16, 2008

Public engagement has increasingly become an element of the University of Minnesota, but some people may not be aware that it has garnered its own day. On April 22, the University will host its second annual Public Engagement Day on the Twin Cities campus.

"Public Engagement Day is a day to bring some visibility and recognition to the many different public engagement initiatives that we have at the University, and a day to bring the community onto the campus to thank them for their partnership and the contributions they make," says Andrew Furco, the associate vice president for public engagement. "It is an opportunity to celebrate the important work that people who are involved in public engagement do on an ongoing basis, and to thank them for it."

Keynote speaker Angela Dawson is cofounder and director of the Northside Food Project, an organization dedicated to getting to the root of the food disparity problem in North Minneapolis. As a member of a community organization working with the University as part of the larger University Northside Partnership, Dawson is prepared to get to the heart of some crucial issues during her lunchtime keynote presentation.

"I have a lot of thoughts about and experiences with public engagement between universities and community organizations, so I have a lot to say about the subject," says Dawson. "I am going to talk about both sides of the experience. I am going to talk about the challenge of change, and how to meld these usually disparate activities--the community work and the university agenda--to make some positive change in the community. "

The event is free and open to the public. Community members and University faculty, staff and students are all welcome, and Furco also hopes people will attend "who perhaps have not been involved with the University, but are curious about some of the work that we do in partnership with the community."

A number of changes have been incorporated since the inaugural event. Most were incorporated after the planning committee received feedback last year. The most significant is the addition of public engagement days on the other University campuses: Rochester (April 3), Morris (April 4), Duluth (April 16), and Crookston (April 17).

Tomorrow is the last day to register!

For registration and more information on Public Engagement Day, please visit the Office of Public Engagement.

"What I found from people last year is that they were looking for networking--they wanted to see if there were others they could consider collaborating with around projects they were interested in," says committee member Heidi Barajas, associate dean for outreach and community engagement in the College of Education and Human Development. "We really took that into consideration this year, and tried to create spaces for that to happen."

Steven Miles, an associate professor in the Center for Bioethics, is a member of the morning panel, "Research perspectives and community influences." His work on torture and human rights provides him a framework to speak about public engagement from the research side.

"The University is a special type of institution that compiles or creates knowledge for Minnesota and the larger world to use," says Miles. "Sometimes we do it in partnership with industries, sometimes it is done by individual scholarship. A university is a place where scholarship is publicly supported, but more importantly, it is a place where the fruits of that scholarship are returned to promote the progress of civil society."

In addition to the speakers and panels, Public Engagement Day will feature 20 workshops, 11 in the morning and 9 in the afternoon. The workshops will provide insight and information on public engagement approaches and issues from multiple perspectives: community, faculty, staff, and student.

Derek Johnson, director of the Center for Citizenship and Democracy's civic partnership initiatives on the west side of St. Paul, is running one of the morning workshops, titled "Students as Active Co-Creators in a Community Organization." Johnson hopes that he and his other workshop presenters can spark an "interest in ways to encourage more meaningful involvement of students in community work" and also "interact with and learn from others involved in community work."

Furco sees Public Engagement Day as a time to foster these kinds of connections, but also a rare chance to get all those working on public engagement in the same place at the same time to share their innovative ideas.

"I think it will be one of the few times where the different public engagement participants come together and learn about each other's work," says Furco. "We have more than 200 units at this University that facilitate public engagement, and we do not often have many opportunities to share with each other the work that is being done. It is an opportunity to learn new strategies, new ideas, and new approaches that might benefit our own work."

Stephanie Wilkes is a senior in English and linguistics and a communications intern in the Office for Public Engagement. If you have questions or comments, please e-mail