Breaking down the town-gown divide

Four civic engagement programs

When colleges promote community involvement as part of the academic mission, both the school and the local region benefit, reports Sandy Smith for Next City.

This engagement varies in shape from research focused on community issues, volunteering, renovating real estate, or working with area schools. Smith rounded up four examples of communities and institutions working together for mutual benefit.

The University of Pennsylvania (Penn) and Philadelphia

In the early 2000s, Penn worked to improve the neighborhood west of its campus through safety patrols, homebuyer incentives, and lighting programs. The neighborhood has now become a safer and more stable area for students, faculty, and staff to live. The university also helped create a public elementary school that now acts a "true neighborhood draw," says Smith. Residents "insisted" the university's name go on the new school, which is now dubbed Sadie Tanner Mosell Alexander University of Pennsylvania Partnership School—or "Penn Alexander" for short.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Boston

Since 2000, the MIT-backed Creating Community Connections program has used information technology to educate and empower residents in low- to moderate-income housing in Boston. The program teaches residents computer skills and offers free high-speed internet connections and laptops to interested residents. It also offered equipment and training for public institutions and local businesses, such as libraries and schools. The program served research at the university into strategies for overcoming the "digital divide."

Coordinating campus-wide civic engagement initiatives

Mesa Community College and Mesa, Arizona

The community college, in a suburb of Phoenix, is currently creating the Coming Out of Hiding Project to combat human trafficking—not just in Arizona, but across the U.S. The program will empower students to turn their classroom lessons and research into the crime into real world advocacy. Students will educate at-risk populations, teachers, business leaders, and medical professionals about the issue and ways they can help stop it.

Rice University and Houston

As part of the Center for Civic Leadership, faculty and students research ways to reduce poverty in the city's Fifth Ward and participate in service projects. Interdisciplinary teams of students and faculty coordinate with local government agencies to identify and solve specific issues in the area. Their first year on campus, students also take part in an orientation that includes community involvement. Students can also choose to participate in a civic leadership certificate program (Smith, Next City, 11/14).

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