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September 29, 2006

Wall of Discovery

Today is an important day at the University of Minnesota: the dedication of the Scholars Walk and the unveiling of the Wall of Discovery. Scholars Walk features monuments, along an attractively landscaped 2400 foot walkway, that acknowledge the work of our most distinguished scholars, teachers, and students.

The Wall of Discovery recognizes not so much individual scholars, but rather the process of creation by our students, staff, faculty, and alumni. To quote from a story by Norman Draper in today's StarTribune:

The operating-room log of heart surgery pioneer F. John Lewis came from his widow in Iowa. The original drawing of Reynold Johnson's Number 2 pencil test-scoring technology came from his son's garage in Washington, D.C. Song lyrics from an early "Prairie Home Companion" radio show came straight from Garrison Keillor.

Now, they're part of the Wall of Discovery, a 253-foot display featuring the work of 99 distinguished University of Minnesota alumni and professors. It will be unveiled today with the dedication of the Scholars Walk project, a $4.5 million privately funded landscaped walkway featuring monuments to the U's most distinguished scholars.

Designed to look like a long chalkboard, the Wall of Discovery runs along the north wall of the U's Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Building and brightens up an alleyway once considered one of the bleakest stretches of U's Minneapolis campus. It cost upwards of $300,000 in donated funds.

It took designer Drew Sternal more than 1 1/2 years to find the documents, which he calls "moments in time from genius at work."

Though inventors and academic researchers are widely represented, the display is leavened with others: writers, musicians and more.

"The breadth of the disciplines at the U are well covered," Sternal said. Hockey coach Herb Brooks is there, represented by a page from his journal representing thoughts about the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team's "Miracle on Ice."This transcends sports in my eyes," Sternal said.

Others include novelist Saul Bellow (a letter), Gore-Tex fabric inventor Robert Gore (notebook entry), astronaut Donald (Deke) Slayton (notebook entry listing the names of astronauts chosen for Apollo missions), poet John Berryman (draft of the poem "Snow Line"), Bob Dylan (song lyrics) and Hubert Humphrey (notes for a speech on the death of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.).

Public engagement is the partnership of university and public expertise to produce things that enrich our civilization and collective life. The Wall of Discovery is an emblem of engagement. I am privileged to have been part of the team that brought it into being.

September 28, 2006

Statistics with Real World Consequences

Lead poisoning has been identified as a major public health problem that disproportionately affects poor children. High lead levels in children's blood are associated with serious declines in IQ, but several investigators have reported a puzzling observation: IQ appears to decrease faster at low blood lead levels (less than 10 micrograms/dl) than at high levels. This is called a supra-linear dose-response curve. It is hard to understand the biological basis for such an effect, but it has led to strenuous and costly efforts to remove even trace amounts of lead from children's environments.

Two researchers [1] have now shown that that the effect is likely a statistical artifact. It arises from the fact that IQ is distributed according to a symmetrical bell-shaped curve, while lead burden is distributed in a log-normal fashion, with a peak at low values and a long tail to high lead concentrations. If the assumption is made that the 50th percentile of IQ is associated with the 50th percentile of lead concentration, the 5th percentile of IQ with the 95th percentile of lead concentration, and so forth, the supra-linear dose-response relationship is the inexorable result. It shows that the apparent strong effect of low lead levels on IQ is simply a consequence of the two statistical distributions, and probably has no biological or public health significance.

I've written about this paper not because I'm a statistics aficionado, or a skeptic about the deleterious effects of high lead levels in children's blood. Rather, I feel the paper is important because it shows how careful we must be to examine experimental data and its statistical treatment when it is used as the basis for expensive public policy. The money spent to remediate low-level lead exposures could very likely have been spent more productively on other public health measures for poor children.

[1] "What is the meaning of non-linear dose-response relationships between blood lead concentrations and IQ?", T.S. Bowers and B.D. Beck, NeuroToxicology 27 (2006) 520-524.

September 27, 2006

Public Engagement in Tenure Decisions

The University of Minnesota is undergoing a discussion of how to bring its tenure and promotion guidelines up to date. Our Tenure Code has a Section 7.11 that sets the institution-wide standards for achieving tenure, and it has a Section 7.12 that begins "7.12 Departmental Statement. Each academic unit must have a document that articulates with reasonable specificity the indices and standards which will be used to evaluate whether candidates meet the criteria of subsection 7.11. The document must comply with those standards, but should make their application more specific." People understand that "the rubber hits the road" in the departmental 7.12 statements, but revison of 7.11 will influence what departments do.

The U's Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee has begun to discuss Section 7.11. The current statement (with relevant footnotes) reads

7.11 General Criteria. The basis for awarding indefinite tenure is the determination that the achievements of an individual have demonstrated the individual's potential to continue to contribute significantly to the mission of the University and to its programs of teaching, research, and service over the course of the faculty member's academic career. The primary criteria for demonstrating this potential are effectiveness in teaching[6] and professional distinction in research,[7] outstanding discipline-related service contributions[8] will also be taken into account where they are an integral part of the mission of the academic unit. The relative importance of the criteria may vary in different academic units, but each of the criteria must be considered in every decision.[9]

[6] "Teaching" is not limited to credit-producing classroom instruction. It encompasses other forms of communication of knowledge (both to students registered in the University and to other persons in the community) as well as the supervision or advising of individual graduate or undergraduate students.
[7] "Research" is not limited to the publication of scholarly works. It includes activities which lead to the public availability of products or practices which have a significance to society, such as artistic production or the development of new technology or scientific procedures.
[8] "Service" means performance within the faculty member's academic expertise and the mission of the academic unit. It does not include performance of quasi-administrative functions such as membership on faculty or senate committees or other similar activities; those activities are relevant only to the limited extent set forth in the following paragraph of the text.

A proposed revision (again with relevant footnotes) reads

7.11 General Criteria. The basis for awarding indefinite tenure is the determination that the candidate has demonstrated and will continue to develop a distinguished record of academic accomplishment that is the foundation for a national and/or international reputation. This determination will be reached through a qualitative evaluation of the candidate’s record of research,[4] teaching,[5] and discipline-based service[6]. The relative importance of the criteria may vary in different academic units, but the primary emphasis must be on research and teaching. The contributions of the candidate to interdisciplinary activities, to public engagement, and to internationalization of the University may be taken into consideration in evaluating the candidate’s satisfaction of criteria. The candidate’s record also must evidence strong promise of achieving promotion in rank within the University.

[4] “Research? is not limited to the publication of scholarly works. It includes innovative activities that lead to the public availability of products or practices that have significance to society, such as artistic production or the development of new technology or scientific procedures.
[5] “Teaching? is not limited to credit-producing classroom instruction. It encompasses other forms of communication of knowledge (both to students registered in the University and to other persons in the community) as well as the supervision or advising of individual graduate or undergraduate students.
[6] “Discipline-based service? means outreach to the local, state, national, or international community based upon the faculty member’s academic expertise. Where service is not an integral part of the mission of the unit, a faculty member’s outreach activities may be considered but are not a prerequisite to the awarding of tenure. Service standing alone without a distinguished record of research and teaching is an insufficient basis to award tenure. “Discipline-based service? does not include the performance of administrative or quasi-administrative functions, such as committee service, service on Senate committees, or performance of administrative tasks.

The enhanced recognition of public engagement in the proposed revision, while subtle, is real and important. The bigger challenge will be for departments to incorporate appropriate definitions and examples of engaged research and teaching in their 7.12 statements.

September 26, 2006

The Dance of Engagement

The July-August 2006 issue of Minnesota, the magazine of the University of Minnesota Alumni Association, has an article entitled "Political Movement", about the life and work of UM faculty member and dancer Carl Flink. It's a powerful portrait, and the article, by Camille LeFevre, is worth a full reading. Here I'd just like to quote a few paragraphs that speak cogently of the special role that dance—and by implication the work of university artists in general—can play in public life.

'Black Label Movement [Flink's dance company] is the means by which Flink merges his theories and research in dance with real-world practice. "It's a holistic model that has the specific benefit of breaking down institutional walls between the university and the larger Twin Cities community," Flink explains. "And it gives people who aren't necessarily going to respond to an article, a book, a lecture, or a panel a whole new way of accessing those ideas."

According to Steve Rosenstone, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, Black Label Movement demonstrates that faculty contributions to the broader community are "not just about technology transfer, not just about jobs, not just about serving as consultants to cities when they're designing highways and buildings," he says. Rather, artistic ventures like Black Label Movement contribute to "the cultural fabric of our community."

The company also brings a powerful and unique choreographic voice to the local dance community. "A lot of people in academia and beyond think of the arts as simply descriptive of knowledge," Flink says. "Someone does a piece about apartheid so the audience will think and learn something deeper about it." Instead of making his dances "about" something, Flink says, in his work "artistic expression comes out of the body through movement." This "embodied art," as he calls his work, conveys "a way of knowing, not a description. It's a way of communicating in and of itself. I don't need to layer it with a paragraph of description."'

September 25, 2006

The New Yorker Education Issue

The September 4 issue of The New Yorker is designated the Education Issue. It has articles on
* The lacrosse controversy at Duke University
* Experimental education at Deep Springs College
* Improving school lunches in Berkeley
* Music education in schools
* Intrinsic capabilities of infant brains
* Bringing a New England boarding school to the Middle East
* A sketchbook by the inimitable Roz Chast, "What I Learned"

There's much in each of these articles about the intersections of higher education, teaching and discovery, and broader social issues - all of the components of public engagement. To give just one example: In Learning the Score: Why Brahms belongs in the classroom by Alex Ross (pp. 82-88) there's an eloquent passage (p. 88) about the role of the arts in a democracy. It cites a book by Maxine Greene, author of Releasing the Imagination:

"She believes that children can gain deeper understanding of the surrounding world by looking at it from the peculiar vantage point of a work of art. She writes, 'To tap into imagination is to become able to break with what is supposedly fixed and finished, objectively and independently real.' Children learn to notice surprising details that undermine a popular stereotype; they grow tolerant of difference, attuned to idiosyncrasy. They also can experience a shock of perception that shows them alternative possibilities within their own lives..."

September 22, 2006

Engagement through Technology Transfer

The University of Minnesota is pleased with the results of a recent study by the Milken Institute, "Mind to Market: A Global Analysis of University Biotechnology Transfer and Commercialization", which showed that the U ranks sixth among North American universities in its success in "turn[ing] knowledge into commercially viable products and companies."

Many in academia worry that emphasis on commercialization of university discoveries distorts our fundamental mission, but I disagree. I feel that technology transfer is an important aspect of public engagement by higher education institutions. Some reasons:

* A university serves many publics, and the commercial sector is one of them. This was clear (though not always articulated) when land grant universities did research, teaching, and extension mainly for the agricultural sector. Now that other economic sectors rival and exceed agriculture, it should be no less clear.

* High-tech companies confront many interesting and significant scientific and engineering problems, which can provide real world experience to faculty and students through consultantships and internships.

* Industrial scientists have expertise that usually complements that of university scientists. They can be good partners, a key component of public engagement.

* Although it can be overstated, research universities _are_ among the most important "economic engines" of their states. Job creation and generation of tax revenues to support public purposes contribute to civic well-being.

* University inventions in biomedicine and biotechnology can, if carried to fruition, make major contributions to public health and welfare.

* Revenues from commercialization of technology feed back to the broader university community. In the most prominent case at the University of Minnesota, returns from an anti-HIV drug have been used for a graduate fellowship matching program, open to all fields, that has thus far generated an endowment of more than $100 million.

Of course, care must be taken that the drive to commercialize university discoveries does not distort other priorities. So far, there is very little evidence that it has.

September 21, 2006

Access to Post-secondary Education: Not just STEM

Everyone seems to agree that higher education needs to work with schools, all levels of government, and the private sector to increase the fraction of students who are prepared to succeed in college and university. Without increased and successful participation in post-secondary education by students from groups that have not traditionally gone to college and that make up a rapidly growing proportion of the population, we will not have the educated workforce needed to maintain our prosperity, and we will have a growing number of people who need help from, rather than contributing to, the broader society.

The case is often made in terms of STEM: we need more students of color to get college-level training in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics disciplines. Indeed we do, because there aren't enough now, these are enjoyable and rewarding careers, and we'll need more domestic students in STEM to replace the foreign students (mainly from China, India, and Korea) who are likely to stay home in future years as their countries' educational systems improve and economic opportunities increase.

Yet we need to be realistic. Not every kid wants to be a scientist or engineer, or a doctor or nurse, nor should they be. We need businesspeople, writers, artists, designers, teachers, lawyers (yes, even lawyers), and many other professions for a modern society. We also need people who have good craft skills: mechanics, electricians, chefs, carpenters, etc. We depend on these skills, the jobs pay well, and they can't be outsourced the way computer programming and scientific research can.

Those of us in research universities tend to forget the important role played by community colleges and technical schools. Interactions among our post-secondary institutions are too laden with status distinctions. We need a better balance if we're to develop a healthy, prosperous, and inclusive society.

September 20, 2006

Enlightened Engagement

We take the existence of electricity for granted, but without it (as 40% of Nicaraguans are), you must rely on kerosene lanterns or wood fires—which can lead to respiratory diseases and accidents— to do anything after dark.

Yesterday's (Sept 19) issue of the Minnesota Daily had a story about a University of Minnesota electrical engineering student, Patrick Delaney, who is implementing an idea to provide light to rural Nicaraguans without electricity. Delaney originally thought to provide electricity through hydroelectric power, but instead found a family that had figured out a way to charge a car battery with a solar panel. He returned to Minnesota, enlisted a business school senior and several others, developed a business plan, and formed a nonprofit organization called "Bright New Ideas" to find a manufacturer and distribute 500 solar-powered lanterns to Nicaraguans by December.

The combination of technical knowledge—both engineering and business—with community-driven needs and ideas and student passion is a great example of the sort of engagement that we hope our students will develop.

September 19, 2006

Why the Increasing Interest in Engagement?

A visitor asked the question the other day: Why is interest in public engagement increasing so markedly in higher education? Here, in no particular order, are some of the reasons we came up with:

  • Trying to develop and implement the contemporary version of the land grant mission
  • Being driven by the interest (and self-interest) of students
  • Trying to recapture declining public support
  • Responding to criticisms from government and private sector about irrelevance
  • Feeling of disciplinary leaders that disciplines have become sterile and removed
  • Responding to grant opportunities that emphasize engaged research and teaching
  • Attracting a different student demographic
  • Feeling the need to work on important social issues
  • Young faculty wanting to do engaged work, and older faculty no longer find it feasible to dismiss their interest as fatal to their careers
  • Increasing prominence of service professions (law, medicine, etc.) relative to traditional core of university
  • Increasing urbanization
  • Declining condition of the country and the world, with idealistic hopes that higher education might help

A lot of factors seem to be converging.

September 18, 2006

Civic Health and Higher Education

The National Center on Citizenship released, at its annual conference, the first Civic Health Index. The Index, available from an on-line report entitled "America's Civic Health Index: Broken Engagement", is described as "a rigorous tool to measure civic progress over time. The Civic Health Index is comprised of 40 key civic indicators measuring levels of political activity, civic knowledge, volunteering, trust, philanthropy, and much more."

The overall conclusion is that the civic health of the nation has declined fairly dramatically over the past several decades. However, there are some encouraging results for those of us who believe that higher education makes a positive difference. To quote from the Executive Summary,

"The Index combines data for all adult Americans (age 18 and older). However, if we disaggregate this data..., we see the civic health of young adults (18-25) improving, at least relative to older generations. That is a hopeful sign, because “as the twig is bent, so grows the tree.?

One of the most dramatic divides in civic health is dependent upon levels of education. Individuals with college degrees are 9-17 points ahead civically of individuals with no college experience. The divide between college graduates and high school dropouts has been as great as 24 percentage points and was 15 points in 2004."

The measures graphed to arrive at these conclusions are voting, volunteering, club meetings, and trust in government. None of these relates directly to a college education, but all relate to the unspoken curriculum that we think is such an important part of what we do.

September 15, 2006

The Meaning of Liberal

Paul Wellstone's "Conscience of a Liberal" has been sitting on my bookshelf for a while. I stared at the title recently and wondered: Why has "liberal" become a dirty word in political discourse? According to Dictionary.com, "liberal" as an adjective has the following meanings:

1. favorable to progress or reform, as in political or religious affairs.
2. (often initial capital letter) noting or pertaining to a political party advocating measures of progressive political reform.
3. of, pertaining to, based on, or advocating liberalism.
4. favorable to or in accord with concepts of maximum individual freedom possible, esp. as guaranteed by law and secured by governmental protection of civil liberties.
5. favoring or permitting freedom of action, esp. with respect to matters of personal belief or expression: a liberal policy toward dissident artists and writers.
6. of or pertaining to representational forms of government rather than aristocracies and monarchies.
7. free from prejudice or bigotry; tolerant: a liberal attitude toward foreigners.
8. open-minded or tolerant, esp. free of or not bound by traditional or conventional ideas, values, etc.
9. characterized by generosity and willingness to give in large amounts: a liberal donor.
10. given freely or abundantly; generous: a liberal donation.
11. not strict or rigorous; free; not literal: a liberal interpretation of a rule.
12. of, pertaining to, or based on the liberal arts.
13. of, pertaining to, or befitting a freeman.

Are these characteristics that Republicans think are bad, or that Democrats feel they have to run away from? What do we teach our students about the meanings of words with sensitive connotations?

September 14, 2006

Science and Politics

The Consortium on Law and Values in Health, Environment & the Life Sciences puts on many interesting lectures and conferences on issues that connect academic studies on law and science with pressing public issues. Coming up next week in the Lunch Series on the Societal Implications of the Life Sciences is a lecture by Kurt Gottfried, Ph.D. (Emeritus Professor of Physics, Cornell University; Co-Founder and Chair, Union of Concerned Scientists) on

“Science and Politics: Problems and Solutions.?
Abstract: Prof. Gottfried will discuss the long and largely harmonious relation between science and government in America, while highlighting the unprecedented friction of today, which Prof. Gottfried believe stems from deep currents in our culture and politics.  Prof. Gottfrield will suggest short- and long-term policies that would help re-establish the science-government relationship that existed in prior administrations of both parties.

The lecture will be held on Tuesday, September 19, 2006 at the Coffman Memorial Union Theater from 12:15-1:30 PM. Prof. Gottfried is also scheduled to appear on Minnesota Public Radio's Midmorning Show at 9:00 AM on Tuesday, September 19.   Tune to FM 91.1 to hear his interview in the Twin Cities or go to http://minnesota.publicradio.org/radio/ to listen online.

September 13, 2006

Global Scientific Engagement

In December, 2001 Dr. Harold Varmus (a Nobel laureate and former Director of NIH) gave a lecture at the Nobel Prize Centennial in which he proposed the establishment of a Global Science Corps. In the lecture, he asserted

"It seems unlikely that the current disparities in health status between the rich and the poor will diminish any time soon. By the end of the 21st century, there will be many more people on this planet; current estimates predict that the world's current population, six billion, will grow to at least nine billion by mid-century. With this growth, many more people are likely to be old (both rich and poor), poor (in the rich countries too), hungry, at high risk of infectious diseases, crowded, exposed to environmental pollution, and resentful of those without complaints (other than age)."

Varmus argued that scientific research, which has contributed so much to improve health in the rich countries, could do the same in the poor parts of the world. But, he noted, "formulas and recommendations for advancing science throughout the world will have little effect if they are not accompanied by missionary zeal---and by means to exercise such convictions. For that reason, I propose establishing an International Corps for Global Science to allow science missionaries, young and old, to help build a global culture of science by working in those parts of the world that are underserved by science now."

Five years later, the Global Science Corp is becoming a reality. On its web site, it states

The Global Science Corps (GSC), an innovative program in international scientific cooperation, will place scientists and engineers (“GSC Fellows?) from developed countries at universities and research institutes in developing countries for one-year terms to share expertise and collaborate with local partners. The objectives of the GSC are to:
  • provide the GSC Fellow with a unique and valuable research experience;
  • help the host institution develop its S&T research capacity through interaction with and instruction from the Fellow;
  • promote sustained collaboration between the Fellow and the researchers at the host institution even after the formal placement has ended, through electronic communication and return visits;
  • establish an alumni network of GSC Fellows and host scientists

The GSC is administered by the Science Initiative Group (SIG), an independent organization that provides oversight for a scientific capacity-building program called the Millennium Science Initiative (MSI).

The GSC will constitute an integral part of the MSI, which supports local scientific leaders in designing and implementing excellent research and training programs – so-called “MSI Centers? – in developing countries. MSI Centers will serve as GSC host sites, as will centers of scientific activity, research and training that are at a comparable level of excellence.

The GSC brochure states that "GSC fellows might include individuals at several different career stages who wish to share their skills and experience: older scientists who are nearing retirement or have recently retired; faculty members seeking sabbatical experiences that would expose them to new scientific problems; trainees finishing postdoctoral work and looking for a novel and valuable experience before making a more permanent career commitment; and others. The length of stay will be one to two years."

Benefits to GSC fellows are listed as

  • exposure to science in another culture
  • opportunities to form long-standing research collaborations
  • access to clinical and biological materials
  • chances to develop new research interests and address urgent local challenges such as malaria, AIDS, environmental conservation and food security issues.

We often debate whether effective public engagement must be local, or whether it can be global or universal. Here's a chance to have it both ways.

September 12, 2006

Categorizing Engagement

We're trying to develop a database of public engagement activities at the University of Minnesota, with geographic, type (research, teaching, etc.), and theme information. All of these turn out to be tricky to boil down to a finite set of choices that can be checked off on a web survey. But themes may be hardest of all. In a university that has 20 colleges, about 150 departments, a similar number of graduate programs, and over 200 centers and institutes, how do you choose a reasonable number of themes within which people can categorize their work? We've looked at lists from Michigan State University and Portland State University, and tried to adapt them to local circumstances. Here's one suggested list. It will be interesting to see how it evolves.

  • Aging and Gerontology
  • Agriculture and Natural Resources
  • Arts and Humanities
  • Biological and Physical Sciences and Engineering
  • Community and Economic Development
  • Design, Architecture, Landscape Architecture
  • Education and Human Development (preK-12, post-secondary, adult/continuing)
  • Environmental Science and Policy
  • Equity and Diversity: Racial, Gender, Disability, etc.
  • Health Sciences: Medicine, Nursing, Dentistry, Pharmacy
  • Human Development (Children, Youth, and Families; developmental psychology and developmental pediatrics)
  • Immigration and Refugees, including English as a Second Language
  • International Issues
  • Law and Justice
  • Management, Business, and Labor Relations
  • Public Affairs: Urban, Metropolitan, and Regional Issues and Governance (including transportation, housing, and land use policy)
  • Public Health and Nutrition
  • Public Safety, Security, and Corrections
  • Social Services
  • Veterinary Medicine

September 11, 2006

Collaborative Design for Neighborhood Partnership

The University of Minnesota is developing a partnership with community groups in North Minneapolis - the University Northside Partnership (UNP). One of the leaders of that effort is Scott McConnell, a Professor in Educational Psychology and Director of the U's Center for Early Education and Development (CEED) which will work on the Northside.

Scott recently sent me a very nice example of how faculty and students from different parts of the university can work together in a spontaneous, informal fashion to serve the purposes of public engagement. He wrote to Tom Fisher, Dean of the College of Design, with the following problem:

"...we've received money to rent office space somewhere in North Minneapolis -- a place that we hope will be highly functional (for faculty, staff, students, community meetings), flexible (we're hoping to use it to recruit more work from U folks in the neighborhood), visible, and inviting (both for U folks and community members). We've looked at a number of potential sites; most recently, we've seen two rather large and open buildings (one former grocery store, another a former automobile garage) that are on West Broadway and seem to have some interesting possibilities. ... This is, it seems, an advantage: We may be able to keep build-out costs down, and create a workspace that is maximally flexible.

On this last point -- flexibility -- I am envisioning this space as an attractor for faculty, students, and programs; by providing occasional or part-time space in the neighborhood, I'm hoping we can get more folks to commit to work as part of the partnership. As a result, being able to use one spot for many folks, and to create arrangements dynamically, seems important."

Scott noted that he, an educational psychologist, has little capacity to think through the design issues involved in configuring such space, and asked Dean Fisher whether the College of Design has someone who might be able and willing to provide some expert advice. The upshot:

"With assistance from Dean Tom Fisher of the College of Design, Caren Martin offered to provide assistance in design of this office earlier this summer. Dr. Martin is a professor in Design, Housing, and Apparel and (with Mike English, an adjunct member of DHA) instructor for DHA 4607, a senior interior design class. Caren was kind enough to 'jump' at my broad and vague bid to get students in the design of these offices, and the two sections of DHA 4607 are working this month (starting 9/5 and with a presentation of design plans on 9/28) to prepare up to 12 recommended interior design solutions for the two prospective sites we've identified on West Broadway....As I understand, work will be presented as a 'fair,' with individual design solutions presented as free-standing posters."

Rapid and enthusiastic response, interdisciplinary connections, student involvement, a significant public engagement enterprise ... This is the way it ought to work.

September 8, 2006

Student Resource Guide to Civic Engagement (4)

This is the final part of Karen Buhr's report on Civic Engagement in Graduate Education - Students. Part 3 was posted yesterday.

Ways to get engaged, continued

11. Promote your program as a volunteer at the state fair

Every year the University of Minnesota staffs a booth at the state fair. Volunteer to hand out literature and talk about your program. Free state fair admission usually comes as a perk. Contact your department coordinator to see if there are opportunities in your department. If not, contact University Relations or the Alumni Association.

12. Get involved with student government

I know, you’re not the student government type. Don’t worry, none of us are. Student government always needs people that want to get involved in their campus and change the University for the benefit of us all. Your level of involvement can range from attending a few meetings, volunteering to represent student government on an issue that is important to you, becoming an officer or just attending social events. However you do it, get involved. You will develop skills that last a lifetime, may get to network, and will make the University better for those who come behind you. There are many organizations to get involved with:

  • GAPSA- The Graduate and Professional Student Assembly represents all graduate and professional students to the university administration, various branches of government, and local communities. They also offer social opportunities and a variety of grants including travel grants.

  • Your college council- Each college has its own council and most councils need help in working to make their school better. Get involved, make changes and get to know your fellow students. If you are a student in the graduate school, contact the Council of Graduate Students. For every other college, go to your college website for more information.

  • Your department- Your department may or may not have its own student government. Get involved with yours or create one if one doesn’t exist. Contact your dean, talk to other students, talk to your college council and find out how you can help.

13. Create a graduate component of ‘alternative spring break’

Alternative spring break is a great opportunity to use your free time for the betterment of others while traveling across the country and meeting new people. The program that exists now was organized by undergraduate students and could greatly benefit from a graduate student component. You can start an alternative spring break for graduate students.

14. Bring a national campaign local
Are you passionate about a national cause like cancer or AIDs research, domestic violence prevention or saving the environment? Bring a national public interest group local. Create a University of Minnesota chapter of your favorite organization. Contact that organization for information. Then contact the Student Activities Office to make it official

Don’t have time for an ongoing project? Throw a benefit concert, host a local component of a national fundraiser like Relay For Life, or work a concession stand at a sporting event and donate the money to your charity of choice.

15. Explore opportunities at the Career and Community Learning Center

The career and community learning center has many opportunities available with various local organizations. Find one that meets your needs.

September 7, 2006

Student Resource Guide to Civic Engagement (3)

This is part 3 of Karen Buhr's report on Civic Engagement in Graduate Education - Students. Part 2 was posted yesterday.

Ways to get engaged, continued

6. Start a student chapter of your national professional organization

Many national professional societies value the importance of student chapters. Find out if a student chapter of your favorite professional society exists, get involved or start one. You will gain valuable experience outside the classroom and get a chance to network with people that share your interests. For more information contact your professional society and then contact the student activities office to find out how to make it official.

7. Start a social committee in your department

Many students feel isolated in their departments. Whether you do or not, you can benefit your program and help students that feel isolated by starting a regular social activity. It can be as simple as having a weekly coffee hour or as complex as the malpractice ball. Do what makes sense to you and your department. Need money? Your department may have funding, contact department officials. If not, your university student affairs office or grad student association may be able to help with small event funds.

8. Participate in your college’s Mentor Program

Mentors are the building blocks of community. By creating connections you strengthen the community, benefit from networking and career advice, and meet people that share similar interests. Many programs already have mentor programs, get involved with yours. If not, create one in your department.

New students can benefit from the experience of their predecessors. Start a graduate student mentorship program. Pair more experienced students with incoming students. Not only will incoming students benefit from your advice, they may avoid some of the pitfalls of graduate school.

9. Start a student organization

Interested in other students that like to wear sweatpants, ballroom dance, go to art museums, watch football or cook Thai food? Whatever your interest, the university is large enough that there is likely someone else who enjoys doing what you do. Contact the Student Activities Office. All it takes is a few friends, a small amount of money for registration, and the patience to write a constitution.

10. Find ways to use your skills in the community

You already possess skills and experience that can benefit your community. Share those skills by volunteering with a local group that works in your discipline. You will pass on valuable expertise and gain experience that may lead you to a job after school. Some examples include volunteering at a local clinic, hurricane relief projects, and diabetes screening. Put your education to good work.

September 6, 2006

Student Resource Guide to Civic Engagement (2)

This is part 2 of Karen Buhr's report on Civic Engagement in Graduate Education - Students. Part 1 was posted yesterday.

Ways to get engaged

1. Discover an interdisciplinary center

The university has over 300 interdisciplinary centers. Find out what centers exist in your field and volunteer. You could get involved with recruiting volunteers, advertising for the center or help with ongoing research and projects. Use your skills to promote the causes that are important to you.

2. Preparing Future Faculty

Don’t be scared by the title! The program is great whether you are planning on becoming faculty or not. From trainings on grant writing to mentorship programs, preparing future faculty has learning opportunities for you. Contact them and find out what they offer.

3. Think of practical applications to your thesis/dissertation

We all want our work to be meaningful and not just sit on a shelf collecting dust. Don’t wonder if anyone will ever read your thesis, make it useful. Find an audience that can benefit from your research and deliver that information in a way that will help them. Present your project to a high school class to get them excited about your discipline, present to a community group, or promote your study in the news. Here are some suggestions:

a. Consider presenting your thesis to a high school or junior high school class

b. Write a press release about your project and try to get it published in a local paper

c. Find a practical audience like a community group that could benefit from your research and work with them to make it applicable to their needs.

4. Help your program cross disciplinary boundaries

Feel isolated in your department? Feel like you have a lot in common with students in other disciplines? Are all your friends in other disciplines? Find a way to bring your disciplines together. Examples like the malpractice ball that brings med students together with law students exist all over campus. Create one in your department.

Need funding? Graduate student organizations often provide small grants for special events and projects.

5. Get involved in your department

Many students feel isolated in their own departments, want to meet more people, or don’t know how to get involved. Here are some ways you can get more involved within your own department.

a. Let your advisor, director of graduate studies (DGS), and professors know that you want to get involved. They may have committees that need volunteers or may utilize you when opportunities arise.

b. Volunteer for curriculum committees. Most college curriculum committees have student representatives. Find out who is in charge of your curriculum committee and let them know that you would like to get involved.

c. Go to faculty meetings (if students are welcome). Some departments do not welcome students to faculty meetings, so check with your advisor. Find out what’s happening in your department, your college and your profession. Likely, you will find ways that you can better your department and get recruited for opportunities that will make a difference.

d. Volunteer for search committees. Most faculty and administration search committees have student members. Volunteer yourself to pick the next generation of mentors.

e. Talk with faculty, staff and administration in your department about ways that students can get more involved in the department. It usually helps if you can find other students who are also interested. Find a few friends, make an appointment with people that can make a difference and find out how you and your fellow students can get more involved. Most importantly, the department will know that this is important to students and may offer more opportunities.

September 5, 2006

Student Resource Guide to Civic Engagement (1)

Karen Buhr, last year's President of the University of Minnesota's Graduate and Professional Student Association (GAPSA) has done a study—supported by the Office for Public Engagement—of the ways departments can encourage the civic engagement of their graduate students, and how students can enhance their own engagement.

Last week, this blog serially presented Karen Buhr's study, focusing on the departmental perspective. This week will deal with ideas and resources for graduate and professional students.


Student Resource Guide to Civic Engagement at the University of Minnesota
by Karen Buhr, University of Minnesota

Why should you get involved in your university and your community?

1. To build skills. Getting involved helps you build skills, network, and feel a sense of accomplishment in making the lives of those around you better. Involvement outside the classroom builds leadership skills and prepares you for the future in ways that the classroom can not while looking great on a resume. In addition, the scholastic environment provides an opportunity to try out new skills in a safe way.

2. To improve your community. Both the University of Minnesota and the Twin Cities have a rich community. Getting involved can improve the quality of both and make you a stronger part of your community.

3. To network. When you get involved you meet people. Sometimes those people can help you advance your career.

4. To meet people you wouldn’t otherwise meet. Getting involved can expose you to people from different parts of the world and different disciplines that you would not otherwise meet. Expanding the people you know helps you to expand your worldview. Broaden your horizons, get involved.

5. To escape the isolation of your department. Graduate students often feel isolated in their department. Getting involved gives you a chance to escape that isolation and feel that you are part of the University community.

6. To have fun. Yes, we are in graduate school to work, but that does not mean that graduate school can not be fun! Find an activity that you enjoy and share it with your community.

7. To make a difference in people’s lives. You’ll be amazed at the changes you see in yourself and the change you can create in others.

Get involved! Don’t know where to start? Here are some easy ways to get involved:

To be continued...

September 1, 2006

How Departments Can Get Graduate Students Engaged (3)

This is part 3 of Karen Buhr's report on Civic Engagement in Graduate Education - Departments. Part 2 was posted yesterday.

Create lounge space for grad students

We are all busy and discount the importance of social time, but social time is what builds the networks that create community. Give your grad students a place to come together, share donuts, eat lunch, or just take a break from the rigors of academic life. You’ll be amazed at how simply providing a space can lead to more connected communities.

Create social opportunities for grad students

In addition to space, social activities can enhance the quality of student life. Remember, happy graduates are giving alumni. More than anything, grad students want to feel that they are part of their department and important to their community. Give them a chance to socialize with other students, faculty, staff and administration. Community will grow from these interchanges. The social opportunities can be academic in nature (like academic conferences), mixed academic and social activities (like holding academic competitions around pop culture topics) or they can be purely social (like a regularly scheduled coffee hour). Whatever the activity, both students and the department will benefit from social opportunities.

Create an annual event with another program or school

Find a creative, productive way to bring disciplines together. Look for disciplines that are a natural fit and can complement the educational experience of both programs. An example is the case competitions in the Academic Health Center where students in various health disciplines come together to solve health-related cases. Find ways for practitioners of different disciplines to meaningfully engage.

Bring local leaders in your field to campus often, let students take them to lunch

Students love the opportunity to meet people from the real world and local professionals may provide valuable contacts in employment searches. When you bring professionals to campus, allow students to have informal question and answer sessions or take the professional to lunch. Not only will you build connections between your program and the community, but you will expose students to an excellent opportunity to think about their futures.

Establish electronic and physical community bulletin boards

The transfer of information is an essential part of any community. Facilitate communication within your department. It may be as simple as a physical bulletin board on which people can post used items for sale or as complex as computer discussion boards around critical department issues. Help the communication flow by giving people space to express themselves.

Establish a department listserve or improve the existing listserve

We all hate the amount of e-mail we get everyday. Sometimes it becomes unbearable, but a listserve can help provide important information and build community in the department. There are two ways to make an effective listserve:

  • Make it critical to the functioning of your department. If critical advising information and department activities are distributed through the listserve, people will begin to use it. Several departments have made their listserves critical enough to their population that it has become an essential means of communication.
  • Let anyone post to it, but provide an opt-out. Satisfy those who do not want to participate by allowing them to opt out, but still provide the valuable resource to those that will benefit from it.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

You can never communicate too much. Find ways to encourage communications within your department and communicate often. Where communication flourishes, so will community.