Posts Tagged 'Civic Agency'

UMBC’s Sparrow Point Project

baltimore sunThe University of Maryland Baltimore County’s Sparrows Point Project was recently featured in the Baltimore Sun. David Hoffman, UMBC’s ADP Campus Coordinator and Assistant Director for Civic Agency spoke to the Sun about how the project — and UMBC’s larger Breaking Ground initiative  (see previous blog post) — are advancing the university’s efforts to prepare students for informed, engaged citizenship:

“How can we prepare students to work together and see the world as open to transformation through their actions?” said Hoffman, one of the program’s leaders. “Every experience students are having reinforces the sense that they can take responsibility for recognizing problems and initiating solutions in their communities.”

Read a segment of this front page story below, and find the full story here.

Excerpt from the Baltimore Sun:

UMBC students use new media to document a dying industrial past

They are preserving Sparrows Point history through website, film

By Julie Scharper, The Baltimore Sun
8:00 p.m. EST, February 11, 2013

Now, with the  [Sparrows Point steel] plant closed and machinery being sold for scrap, Bartee and other steelworkers are teaming with University of Maryland Baltimore County students and professors to record their stories. The students are making a website and helping with a documentary to preserve the history of the plant….

Much as pieces of massive machinery have been carted away from the plant in recent weeks, the history of the mill — once the region’s economic hub — is in danger of disappearing. But two UMBC professors and their students aim to preserve the stories of 20th-century manufacturing using 21st-century techniques….

The project is part of the university’s Breaking Ground initiative, which aims to empower students to develop and implement solutions to challenges that surround them. David Hoffman, UMBC’s assistant director for civic agency, said the university wants to shatter students’ conception that citizenship occurs in discrete bursts in the voting booth or volunteering projects….

The Sparrows Point project, Documenting Cultural Heritage in Partnership with Communities, is a collaboration between an American studies professor, Michelle Stefano, and a new media studio professor, Bill Shewbridge. The students in their two interwoven courses use traditional methods for exploring the past, such as transcribing oral histories, while employing the latest technology to record and share those stories.

Read more.

The Power of Public Narrative: Harry Boyte in the HuffPost

This is a re-post of Harry Boyte’s recent opinion piece in the Huffington Post. Harry has been a long-term partner of ADP’s civic agency initiative. Here Harry writes eloquently about the power of campus-community partnerships and the need for colleges and universities to be participatory citizen-agents in their communities — conceiving themselves as part of a community, rather than standing apart as “partners with,” yet other than (better than?) the community.  Plus the piece talks about my hometown — Utica, NY! — Jen Domagal-Goldman, ADP National Manager

Re-posted from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/harry-boyte/college-community-partnerships_b_1917951.html

Hope and Higher Education — The Powers of Public Narratives

By Harry Boyte

What happens when colleges become “part of” communities, not simply “partners with” communities, overcoming the culture of detachment that took hold in higher education after World War II, described by Thomas Ehrlich, a pioneer of civic engagement?

Such a shift means colleges and universities act as anchoring institutions, part of the “barn raising” which Nancy Cantor recently called for. In barn raising, colleges help communities to address challenges ranging from economic development to school reform.

In some cases re-integration of colleges, their staff and students into places can lead to even more expansive change. When colleges and universities and their members take on the role of “agents and architects of democracy,” envisioned in The Wingspread Declaration in 1999, the process can generate new public narratives through which communities are able to re-imagine their futures.

There is a rich if largely unknown history which shows the potential. And there are examples today, like a consortium of colleges and universities in upstate New York, working with towns to spark a renaissance of the region, using the rubric “Rust to Green.”

In years of researching effective citizen action, I have often been struck by the powers of public narratives. In Brooklyn in the 1980s, East Brooklyn Churches, an African American community organization, launched the nation’s most ambitious low-income housing effort. The key was a new public narrative.

Community residents, using the story of the Old Testament leader who led the people in rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls, named their effort Nehemiah Homes. “The story connected our work to something real, not something bogus,” explains Mike Gecan, the local organizer. “It got it out of the ‘housing’ field and the idea that you have to have 35 consultants to do anything. It made it more than housing.”

The heart of such narratives is a shift in collective identity from victim to agent of change. Such narratives also require skilled organizing to make them come alive — citizen politics attentive to power, diverse interests, and relationship building. Local people need to own the stories, rooted in collective life. Such stories bring together previously divided groups. They counter the idea that making money, hyper-competition, and celebrity status are the ultimate goals, with the vision of a different future animiated [sic] by democratic, egalitarian, cooperative and inclusive values.

Such stories also challenge trends in higher education. On the one hand, colleges and universities tout their role in providing expertise to those seen as in need of answers. Historian Scott Peters has called this the “heroic meta-narrative” of higher education’s role.

On the other hand, social theorists in recent decades have developed what Peters calls the “tragic counter-narrative,” in which higher education is the oppressor. As the anthropologist James Scott put it about land grant colleges, “The unspoken logic… of agricultural modernization was one of consolidating the power of central institutions and diminishing the autonomy of cultivators and their communities.”

Peters has unearthed an alternative to both, what he calls the “prophetic counter-narrative,” in which land grant college faculty and students work as part of communities. In this story, faculty and students as well as other citizens combine practical problem solving with narrative imagination.

Thus, land grant colleges once helped to organize a “Little Country Theater Movement,” local theaters across the Midwest designed to help communities tell their own stories. Alfred Arvold, on the faculty at North Dakota Agricultural College, began the movement in 1914 convinced that “there are literally millions of people in country communities today whose abilities have been hidden, simply because they have never had an opportunity to give expression to their talents.” The theater projects fed later populist movements.

Peters has been part of the Rust to Green consortium in upstate New York that revives this approach. The consortium, including Cornell, Colgate, Utica College, Hamilton College, and Mohawk Valley Community College, is working in Utica and the Mohawk Valley, with plans to expand to other cities.

Rust to Green holds that stories of community decline in the “Rust Belt,” a stretch of communities which have experienced loss of manufacturing jobs, declining populations, growing poverty and other ills, can be reversed by multidimensional work to build sustainable and resilient communities and economies. The rubric is the brainchild of Paula Horrigan, associate professor of landscape architecture at Cornell who identifies with the land grant public work tradition.

Horrigan has long been skeptical of colleges “serving communities” from on high, or simply “researching” their problems. She believes that higher education work should always be in a process of “decentering,” and measures success by the degree to which the work is able to move energy away from academic experts and towards communities. She uses the metaphor of a growing tree in which the center dies out and outer layers grow and thicken, transporting nutrients and becoming increasingly life-filled and generative. She sees herself as “part of” the region and its communities, not “partners with.”

A Brookings Institute study in 2007 identified area towns as having hidden assets and “high potential for renewed prosperity.” Building on this message, Rust to Green began in 2009 with a three year federal grant. Then mayor David Roefaro was enthusiastic. “I want to make Utica one of the greenest cities in upstate New York and our affiliation with Cornell is going to do that,” he said.

The metaphor is highly catalytic. The Mohawk Valley Food Action Network, using the Rust to Green logo, includes dozens of partners — schools, local producers, farmers’ markets, cooperative extension, local governments. It aims to strengthen local farmers and businesses, building on local knowledge and creating a healthy, sustainable food system.

One World Garden in Utica, also part of Rust to Green, is organized by a coalition including immigrants, the Mohawk Valley Center for Refugees, artists and others. It combines local food production, a park space, and art, highlighting the contributions of refugees and immigrants, seeking to counter the idea of “threat” with possibility.

Public officials have also broadened their views. “We’re now looking at municipal projects in a new way,” explains Bob Sullivan, former Urban Renewal Agency director and member of the Rust to Green Core. “We’re looking at storm water mitigation, permeable pavement and all sorts of things that could be considered green.”

Rust to Green is only two years old, but the metaphor has shown strong appeal. As one faculty member active in the consortium told Horrigan, “People don’t know much about our campus center, but everyone knows something is afoot in Rust to Green.”

Perhaps most important for democracy in New York and elsewhere is the revival of the “democracy’s college” narrative of democracy, different than either the unbridled market or government-centered action.

As Peters put it, democracy’s colleges aimed not only at “material well-being for all.” They also promoted a “democratic ideal (and practice) of self-rule, through which the common people, functioning as citizens, work as cooperative producers not only of the commonwealth, but also of the culture and politics of their own neighborhoods and communities.

This is the story of democracy as a journey, not a destination. It is needed once again.

Harry C. Boyte is National Coordinator of the American Commonwealth Partnership, director of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at Augsburg College, and a Senior Fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

Read the full post, and other HuffPost opinion pieces by Harry Boyte, here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/harry-boyte/college-community-partnerships_b_1917951.html

Campus Spotlight: Breaking Ground at UMBC

Breaking Ground at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC)

UMBC has been a key campus in the American Democracy Project’s Civic Agency initiative. We’re excited about the new BreakingGround initiative at UMBC which builds on UMBC’s commitment to fostering civic agency; it is yet another example of how institutional intentionality can contribute to cultural change on campus.

BreakingGround is a true campus-wide collaboration: inspired in part by student initiatives, building on a variety of successful service-learning and social change projects, supported by faculty from many disciplines, deeply rooted in UMBC’s culture and history of innovation and entrepreneurship.  BreakingGround features courses developed or redesigned to promote civic agency; incentives to link community service projects with opportunities for deep learning and engagement; numerous opportunities for students, faculty, staff, alumni and community partners to collaborate on campus and community change projects; and a blog for sharing stories, launching community discussions and promoting involvement.  Like the most successful social change movements, BreakingGround is inclusive and organic, tapping the talents and passions of the participants and helping them pull together to advance the common good.  In the wake of calls for higher education to become far more creative and effective in supporting democratic learning and engagement, BreakingGround is UMBC’s way of helping to “make the road by walking.”

About the Project

UMBC is helping to lead an extraordinary, new higher education movement toward innovative, energetic campus and community engagement. In a time of widespread skepticism about the capacity of our democracy to respond to society’s needs, UMBC’s initiatives are demonstrating the power of individuals and collaborative groups as agents of meaningful change and renewal. This work is deeply embedded in a campus culture that builds community from diversity and celebrates ingenuity and resourcefulness.

UMBC’s campus and civic engagement projects have developed over the past decade in a variety of departments, programs and student organizations linked by informal networks and conversations. Now, to deepen this work and make it more visible on campus and beyond, UMBC is fostering an intentional and powerful coalescence. This emerging collaboration, known as BreakingGround, launched in August 2012 through innovative courses, community engagement activities and online conversation.

Please visit the BreakingGround website (breakingground.umbc.edu), and follow/share the initiative on Twitter through #digUMBC.

Read ADP Campus Coordinator David Hoffman’s recent Breaking Ground blog post here.


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