At our institutions, faculty and students alike seek opportunities for deep learning, experiential education, and community engagement. When these three things effectively come together, the outcome is high impact for everyone involved. After a recent study conducted by Iowa Campus Compact highlighted a lack of community-campus research partnerships our team has come together in hopes of building the capacity of each of our institutions and our community partners to fill that gap.
While community-engaged research is not a new concept, our small liberal arts colleges are well-suited to fulfill specific research needs that may not be traditionally considered. Often times the information our community partners need does not require high level original research. They may need help with program evaluation or even secondary research. Similarly, faculty and students are practicing these exact skills in the classroom, but with simulated research questions and data. Our goal is to build a bridge between the research needs in the community with research happening in the classroom, and align each of those with faculty scholarship goals to maximize our impact and reach all of our goals in a more efficient and effective way.
Our purpose is to build the capacity of our institutions and community partners to meet each of our needs through research partnerships. We know there is an existing gap; our goal is to more deeply explore why such partnerships are limited, despite the interest we see/hear among faculty and community-based organizations (CBOs) and to identify strategies to move forward.
The intended outcomes of the project are:
- Community participants will have a stronger understanding of goals and possibilities of undergraduate and faculty research and be able to identify clear and feasible research and evaluation needs for their organization.
- Faculty participants will have a stronger understanding of the goals and possibilities for research at community partner sites and be able to identify how the courses they teach or their own scholarship could be leveraged to fulfill those research needs.
- Community engagement professionals will have a stronger understanding of both community and faculty perspectives of research and will be able to identify the facets of an effective research partnership, enabling them to better facilitate and advocate for such partnerships.
We will bring together faculty, community engagement professionals, and CBO staff to learn from and with one another over the course of several months. We envision a cohort of CBO staff who would receive a stipend to gather and discuss the kinds of research needs they have. Through the study’s focus groups we learned many CBOs are intrigued by the idea of taking advantage of research partnerships, but are unsure of the possibilities or how to get started. The meetings will include education/training on the research process.
A final product is difficult to pinpoint because we intend for participants to play an active role in determining what that should be. That said, some possibilities are: making recommendations for practice, plans or a handbook for community/institutional workshops, building an argument for community-campus research partnerships and plan for advancing the work, documenting data or resources needed to move forward, mapping knowledge and assets, or identifying research projects to prioritize.
A key partner in this project is Iowa and Minnesota Campus Compact. Not only does the organization have critical experience and expertise to help advance our goal, but they also support multiple ACM institutions as well as several other colleges and universities. Results of the grant will be published through Iowa and Minnesota Campus Compact’s website and shared through their national networks which includes colleges and universities as well as non-profit affiliates. Their regional and national conferences would be natural opportunities to share any findings, as well as to develop next steps, from the project.
While two institutions will be participating in the onset of the project, the model we develop could be used by individual institutions or by a larger group. We will document every step of the process with an eye toward developing a handbook others could use in putting together a similar local resource.
We would also welcome the opportunity to present and discuss this work with a wider group of ACM colleagues. This might be a meeting of community engagement staff and faculty with on-site visits to community partners in Eastern Iowa, or a presentation at a FaCE meeting in Chicago.
Outcomes and Significance
Colleges utilize partnerships with the community to fulfill our missions, and these partnerships rely on the staff of community-based organizations (CBOs) that build relationships with college faculty, staff, and students. However, partnerships are most effective when everyone brings their best assets to the table, and for higher education that is knowledge production. Unfortunately, there was a noticeable lack of research, particularly based on community-driven questions, happening among these partnerships. Based on recommendations from the Iowa Campus Compact, and to meet demand from faculty to support community-engaged scholarship on our campuses, we want to explore how to build the capacity of faculty and CBOs to generate community-campus research partnerships that simultaneously advance faculty scholarship, student learning, and community initiatives. Demonstrating how our institutions are effectively integrating that work is central to making the case for a liberal arts education.