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Engagement Profile: November


For our second faculty spotlight we meet Will Craig, the Associate Director for the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA). Craig gives us a summary of his office's work, specifically what makes it unique and what outcomes CURA expects to see.

Describe the work of your office

CURA is an All-University Center working to connect University faculty and students with the community for the benefit of both. We do this primarily by supporting applied University research projects and providing technical assistance to community organizations. Last year we supported 71 research projects involving faculty and graduate students from 12 different colleges and over 30 different departments and units. In addition, CURA supported over 100 technical assistance projects, like community organizing or mapping. In total, we helped the University engage with 164 community organizations in the Twin Cities and across the state. For details, see our recent Annual Report.

What is unique about CURA's work?

That's tough, because it's hard to choose. Our faculty-supported projects cover a broad range of urban-related topics. But I'm going to focus on our Community Based Research projects, because they are unique. Each semester we issue a Request for Proposal (RFP) to community organizations, asking them to outline a research project that could help them achieve their mission. Proposals are reviewed by an advisory committee composed of people from academia and the community. Winners are awarded 10hrs/week of a graduate student for a full semester - 195 hours. Here's the catch: the student can come from anywhere in the University - or from any coordinate campus (not all are graduate students). CURA works with the community organization to develop a job description, which is posted on the University website. Students apply directly to the community and they pick the student that best suits their needs. CURA requires a work plan and regular updates, but the student works for the community organization. We also pay the student and publish the final report so other community organizations can benefit from it.

What kinds of outcomes do you expect?

CURA hopes that our community partners get a report that helps them advance their mission. One part of the RFP asks how they will utilize the results. Typically, the project helps them frame an issue or take action on an issue they already understand. In the process we want them to grow their social capital. Some examples:

• An early project in the Elliot Park and Loring Park neighborhoods of Minneapolis identified restorative justice as a way to combat nuisance crimes, a project that eventually convinced the courts to adopt this approach.
• A student from Theater Arts helped the community theater in Big Fork create an old-time drop for their stage, an effort that engaged over 50 members of the community, including many young people.
• A Landscape Architecture student recently worked with a non-profit CSA( Community Supported Agriculture) group to develop design approaches for "pocket farms" now being developed on vacant lots in the McKinley neighborhood of North Minneapolis.

CURA expects most students working on these projects grow intellectually and professionally. We want them to have a chance to apply what they've learned in the classroom and to expand their skills. Results from a recent self-study of recent graduates show that we are meeting these goals. Two-thirds of the students contacted said the project complemented their coursework and 95% said the research experience expanded their skills. Many individuals extolled their community-engaged experience, saying it was a highlight of their professional development.