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Community-Based Research at the California State Universities

By Cecilia M. Orphan, National Manager, American Democracy Project

“Our goal is to support campuses and communities to collaborate equitably as co-researchers to address significant social issues, to promote learning and development, and to advance the creation and dissemination of knowledge.” – From CSU Impact Nov./Dec. 2010 Issue

The California State University system has been providing outstanding leadership in community-based research (CBR) for several years now. We see CBR as an important component of what it means to be a “Steward of Place.” Stewardship of Place recognizes that universities are rich with resources – both human and intellectual – and are uniquely positioned to help solve local problems and advance democracy. One potential area of stewardship that a university can provide is by partnering with the community to research community-based problems and circumstances. Indeed, this kind of research is a potential niche for ADP institutions to occupy because they are often experts on their community circumstances. ADP schools have acquired this expertise through sustained and long-term engagement with their communities, and CBR can help them deepen this expertise and engagement.

We have identified community-based research as a signature practice of civic engagement for universities. Not only does it allow a university to act as a steward to its community, but it also engages students in meaningful learning and research experiences – an area that AASCU institutions continue to provide leadership. Many AASCU institutions have incorporated undergraduate research into their CBR. This has proven to be an innovative and effective strategy for teaching students important real-world research skills while providing them with opportunities to engage with the community in meaningful ways. It also helps focus the attention where it should be: on student learning outcomes.

Several universities in the American Democracy Project have taken this leadership a step further by allowing CBR to count in faculty tenure and rewards structures. This is an important feature of the institutionalization of civic engagement (a key feature of ADP) because it provides incentives for faculty members to be involved in the community and teach their students civic skills.

I hope many ADP universities will contemplate ways that they can become more deeply involved in their communities by conducting research that is relevant to their communities, targeted, and has the goal of addressing local problems. And, of course, all of this should be done through equitable an partnership with the community.

To learn more about the CSU System’s leadership in CBR, please visit this website. For more information about undergraduate research, please visit the Council on Undergraduate Research’s website.

Does your campus engage in community-based research? If so, what kind of projects has it undertaken?

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