You spoke and we listened. In an effort to help facilitate partnership building at a grassroots level, the Office of Community Engagement and Partnerships (“OCEP”) responded to feedback from current and potential community partners and inaugurated a new program called a “Semesterly” Service-Learning Workshop for Community Organizations and USF Faculty.
We want to lift the veil off the partnering process and develop a more systematic approach for community partners to find ways to connect with USF faculty and students. As a result, 26 potential and current community partners gathered with OCEP staff and USF faculty at the Children’s Board with the goal of forming undergraduate or graduate level service-learning courses and/or research projects for summer, fall, or spring semesters. Going forward, we will meet before each semester to streamline the partnering process culminating in Service Learning Day in March 2015.
Organization representatives and faculty members introduced themselves and outlined their goals for the workshop. Then, community leader and President of the Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association Lena Young-Green gave a masterful and inspiring pep talk about the importance of working with USF.
Young-Green remarked that many in the audience may not yet be aware of where the resources are but are well aware that “there is something wrong” that they need to fix in the delivery of services in our community. She said she and her fellow community leaders used to think, “if we could just get inside that ivory tower [USF]” change could happen. She said, “this is one of those opportunities.” She echoed the sentiment of other community partners that OCEP coming out into the community was an important step in the right direction toward bridging what may be a perceived barrier between the university and the wider community.
She said, “we don’t have to stand out there by ourselves,” and she implored the audience members to find a way to connect with the university so that they can avoid the “throwing spaghetti at the wall approach to see what will stick” approach to solving problems. She has found that by working with the university her organization has been able to determine best practices and best results through an academic process, either through service-learning courses or community-based research.
Following remarks by Dr. Lance Arney, OCEP Associate Director about service-learning best practices and resources on the OCEP website, participants were able to break up into small groups to discuss needs and opportunities. Participants felt positively about their opportunities to network with one another and with OCEP staff and USF faculty, and were looking forward to continuing the conversation to develop partnerships.
Overall, the hope is that a greater number of connections will develop, and long-term sustainable relationships will be built. To put it in the words of one long-time community partner, Evangeline Best, after working with USF, “we became a family.”
By Bonnie Beth Silvestri, OCEP Director of Strategic Communications