Innovation in the Community- University Partnership

by Dadit Hidayat

On October 9, 2012, Interim Chancellor David Ward officially kicked off the Year of Innovation for the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  CUE was tasked to put together a panel on “Campus-Community Partnership: Fostering Innovation.”  The audience learned what community-based work means to student Sherri Bester (Student Liaison to Family Voices Project), Heather Gates (Executive Director, The Natural Step Monona), Dolly Ledin (Instructor, Institutes for Biology Education), Kim Neuschel (Nurse, Public Health Madison and Dane County), Sue Stanton (CUE Graduate Fellow and PhD candidate, School of Education), and Lynet Uttal (Professor, Family Studies and Human Development and Director of Asian American Studies).

Professor of Community and Environmental Sociology Randy Stoecker delivered an introduction.  He shared the inconvenient facts behind many success stories of university- community partnership.  “Untenured faculty literally risks their job, graduate student risks their degree completion, and community groups risk their organization’s productivity,“ he illustrated.  For that reason, he introduced the panelists as “not only the most innovative but also the bravest innovators.  ”When asked about innovation, Bester said, “It is when our [community] voice is recognized and heard.”  Rather different from the mainstream production of knowledge, partnership is about co- production of knowledge or according to Ledin, “a two-way street.”  Knowledge is produced collaboratively between academics and those who may only have an 8th grade education, as suggested by Stoecker.  Only in this way could the partnership make the difference that otherwise communities would not be able to make (on their own), added by Gates.

For Uttal, the motivation to work with community is so that academics are able to learn from local people who are in practice in the real world.  Local theorizing, as Uttal illustrates, is where book knowledge is translated into more conceptual ideas working collaboratively.

When asked about the key to a successful partnership, Neuschel offered thoughts from her experience with an on-the-ground model and the importance of forming sincere relationships with the community.  Stanton added both academics and community members can then speak the same language.

Following the panel, five groups showcased their campus- university partnership projects at interactive table displays.  These included the Family Voices Project, South West Madison Community Organizers, Savor South Madison, Slow Food UW, Institute for Biology Education, and the Community-University Exchange. ■

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