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17 Things to Foster Engagement

The University of Minnesota has been undergoing an ambitious, all-encompassing strategic positioning exercise this year, involving the work of many task forces that are looking at college structure, undergraduate and graduate education, diversity, international perspectives, preK-12 connections, and other systemic issues.

Public Engagement is not one of the task forces. Instead, it was reasoned that since public engagement should be integral to all our teaching and research activities, it should be a part of the charge of each task force.

Accordingly, during the Fall semester I met with each of the academic task forces to discuss with them how public engagement might fit with their particular assignment. In addition to such specifics, I assembled a list of general things that faculty might do in the course of their normal lives - at work and in their communities - to foster better connections and understanding between faculty work and the public realm. Here are 17 things I came up with:

  • Talk with your students about the public significance of your field

  • Put service learning or citizenship/public ethics components in your courses

  • Talk with your neighbors about your university work

  • As appropriate, involve the public in planning and communicating your research

  • Be respectful of community interests when doing research in communities

  • Write and talk for public audiences

  • Discuss with your college's communications director how to reach general audiences

  • Talk with K-12 schoolkids and teachers about your work

  • Form interdisciplinary teams to research and teach about societal issues

  • Be alert to public issues that may provide research and teaching opportunities

  • Participate in public engagement discussions in your professional societies

  • Support your colleagues who do public engagement work

  • Count appropriate engagement activities positively in P&T and salary considerations

  • Talk with your legislators and local politicians about the important work the U is doing

  • Be accessible to legislators and public officials needing advice in your areas of expertise

  • Participate in public policy discussions that can be informed by your expertise

  • Be accessible to local companies interested in your research

Common sense, all of them; but imagine how much better the engagement between universities and society would be if more of us actually did them.