With 300+ partners and a nod from the White House, UWM engages community, transforms lives
By Angela McManaman
When Milwaukee residents need help — whether it’s teaching students to read, getting refugees to jobs or providing medical care in neighborhoods lacking doctors — they turn to UWM.
The university has married its expertise to empowerment, working with civic leaders, nonprofit organizations and others to transform lives in the city.
Many universities do good, but UWM is helping set a new standard in higher education by investing equally in teaching students and elevating the community it calls home. The White House and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching both honored the university this year as a leading engaged university, recognizing the work it does in collaboration with more than 300 nonprofit partners.
That work began nearly 30 years ago. The Silver Spring Community Nursing Center, established in 1987, was among the first major university-community partnerships.The UWM engagement profile and partnership roster has grown steadily and significantly ever since.
Students and faculty lead the way
Consider that UWM students will log more than 43,000 volunteer hours this academic year. Nearly 10,000 Milwaukee residents who lack medical care will be treated by students and faculty from the College of Nursing. Hundreds of elementary students will read better, throw a baseball harder, and believe a college education is more achievable after working closely with UWM undergraduates and faculty at diverse sites across Milwaukee.
“This cumulative impact is what it means to be engaged. We’re not working for the awards or the status,” says Joan Prince, the university’s vice chancellor for Global Inclusion and Engagement. “We see them as a catalyst to deepen our community engagement in a way that will not only transform lives, but will also produce innovative, creative opportunities for the entire UWM family to participate in.”
The UWM approach prepares students for life, rather than just a single career path, adds Rob Smith, associate vice chancellor for Global Inclusion & Engagement.
“There’s a lot to be learned from the lived experiences of our alumni and community partners,” Smith says. “We prepare our students for the reality that you never stop learning — education isn’t something that is housed in a university for four years.”
A step beyond service
What might be considered “service” at other institutions is defined as “engagement” at UWM. The difference? The university and its partners have equal power in identifying priorities to address, and how to tackle them — transforming lives and the region, together.
UWM also has a unique one-stop shop for students who volunteer individually or as part of a class.
“I’m a matchmaker,” says Laurie Marks (’10 PhD Education, ’95 BA Political Science), founding director of the Center for Community-Based Learning, Leadership and Research. “When someone from the community calls me and says they need job-training support for their refugee clients, or schools need reliable tutors for after-school reading programs, I line them up with the right faculty member. I can suggest a service-learning course.”
Engagement takes that service to the next level, weaving in faculty expertise, administrative support and focused feedback to ensure UWM’s work in the community is done right and has a strong impact.
“What our faculty, staff and students can get out of being an engaged university,” Prince says, “is taking the knowledge that is produced here and utilizing that knowledge in a way that is transformative.”
In the following days, we will share many stories of UWM’s engagement on this website. Prepare to be inspired by students, faculty members and alumni who are changing lives — and being changed themselves — through leadership, research and service.