Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

Planning for Community Engagement: Drexel University Creates the Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships

Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

Planning for Community Engagement: Drexel University Creates the Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships

Article excerpt

DURING THE GRAND OPENING OF DREXEL UNIVERSITY'S Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships in Philadelphia in June 2014, one of the speakers remarked that the center's opening and dedication ceremony was the culmination of a participatory stakeholder planning process that had spanned the previous two years. The implication that the ceremony represented a wrapping-up, however, does not quite tell the whole story. The Dornsife Center was launched through a process that charted programming content, operations, and design, certainly--but this comprehensive planning process is iterative and continuous and is bundled into both the facility's design and its ongoing daily operations.

This article first situates the conception and creation of the Dornsife Center within the Drexel-driven framework for planning institutional civic engagement. This focus on the planning process is followed by a discussion of the center's implementation: funding, design, and early outcomes.

THE IDEA: AN EXTENSION CENTER AT A PRIVATE URBAN UNIVERSITY

The impetus to establish the Dornsife Center came from both inside and outside the university. Inside the institution, a growing emphasis on civic engagement laid the internal groundwork; outside, neighborhood planning processes in the communities closest to Drexel's University City campus identified a local interest in transforming the traditionally contentious relationship between the university and its neighbors into something more integrated and constructive.

INSIDE THE UNIVERSITY: FORMALIZING AND FRAMING GOALS AND PRACTICES FOR CIVIC ENGAGEMENT

In his 2010 convocation address, then-new Drexel University president John Fry announced his goal to make Drexel the most civically engaged university in the nation (Drexel University Office of the President 2010). The Office of University and Community Partnerships, which was created to implement this vision, rolled out a set of principles and strategies that would guide implementation. The Dornsife Center would emerge as a physical hub for this work.

In fact, the university was already poised to formalize President Fry's goal, with a number of existing and carefully designed community-facing programs and research projects underscoring a growing movement among faculty and students toward more connection with community-level stakeholders outside the institution. The Lindy Center for Civic Engagement, the College of Nursing and Health Profession's 11th Street Clinic, the School of Public Health's Center for Hunger-Free Communities, and the multidisciplinary Urban Sustainability Initiative are just a few examples of programs designed and driven by faculty members and administrative staff who have been increasingly committed to participatory research methodologies and pedagogies.

Drexel's framework for civic engagement (figure 1) includes three dimensions of civic engagement drawn from the core functions of the institution:

[much greater than] Academic engagement: connecting the research, teaching, and clinical practices to community partners for the purpose of collaborative problem solving.

[much greater than] Service and volunteerism: involving students, faculty, and staff.

[much greater than] Institutional activity: supporting local economic development procurement, employment, and strategic business practices.

This framework defines three distinct ways in which the institution can carry out engagement with community partners.

In addition, Drexel has identified a set of neighborhood initiatives that frame how the university as an anchor institution works with the communities immediately contiguous to the University City campus: Mantua, Powelton Village, and West Powelton. These initiatives help situate Drexel's framework for institutional civic engagement within a broad national conversation about anchor institution behavior, planning, and metrics. …

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