Driving Vibrant External Engagement and Impact

Academic Voices: A Provost's Blog

Driving Vibrant External Engagement and Impact

March 21, 2022

Anchor institutions provide long-term stability and economic impact to their local communities. This description certainly fits The Ohio State University given the history and reach of our six campuses and medical center. One important contemporary validation of the institution’s longstanding community engagement can be seen in the fact that the Carnegie Foundation has classifed Ohio State as an “Engaged University” since 2008, which signals deep and broad outreach and impact across a substantial number of metrics. This achievement is impressive, especially in combination with the university’s Carnegie R1 status as one of the country’s leading research institutions. The power of these two credentials working in tandem is profound.

In response to President Johnson’s emphasis on service excellence as one of the university’s major strategic priorities, I hope we can do even more in this space. The university’s teachers, learners, researchers, practitioners, staff, and professionals should be a force for good for the people of Ohio. I want to inspire us to deepen existing local, regional, and statewide partnerships and develop new ones in ways that help our academic community continue to engage with our state, country, and world in mutually beneficial ways. I believe that community engagement is at its most effective when all partners gain something they value from the experience. The lessons we can learn from authentic collaboration have broad implications for the success of our institution. When we put our talent and expertise into the public sphere, we create enduring societal good. 

Consider just a few of the wide-ranging ways our university connects with residents and communities across Ohio:

So many of our scholars, students, and staff throughout the institution are deeply and passionately engaged in community-based research and service. Statewide, we offer Ohioans among the best interconnected healthcare and family support services in the country and world, where medical discovery, clinical care, and social work come together to cure, to prevent harm, to promote justice, and to help people thrive. We watched this connectedness in action as interdisciplinary teams tackling COVID-19 worked to create evidence-based interventions that have saved lives, kept people working and schools open, and helped manage many consequences of the pandemic.

Across an enormous range of disciplines, our academic community brings expertise to bear on issues that affect our state’s citizens, some of whom are among the most vulnerable. For example, the Divided Community Project in the Moritz College of Law is committed to resolving disputes in local communities, while the work of the Center for Cancer Health Equity at the James Cancer Hospital aims to reduce cancer health disparities. The Wexner Center for the Arts’ Department of Learning & Public Practice supports arts programming and education throughout Central Ohio.

Our students, too, care deeply about community service and involvement. Whether in internships and service-learning opportunities throughout the state, or as part of student organization activities focused on contributing to the public good, our students fulfill Ohio State’s motto of “education for citizenship.”

Close to home, our work in and with the city of Columbus is critically important. A recent report by the Office of Outreach and Engagement shows that we still have much to do in developing the kinds of long-lasting collaborations that benefit all. I am particularly committed to programs like those we’re building with Columbus State and the Columbus Public Schools that will support young people in Ohio. The multifaceted community programming designed by Ohio State’s STEAM Factory can serve as a national model for community partnering.  We want to find opportunities for our hometown neighbors to feel connected to — and included in — the life of the university.

In our aspiration to serve the whole state, four of the most tremendous assets we have are our regional campuses. I am committed to supporting their important work in scholarship, education and service. Each is a jewel of a campus, offering small class sizes, customized learning experiences, and a front door to an affordable, accessible Buckeye education. Recently, we conducted a two-part retreat focused on the distinctive contribution each campus makes to Ohio State and the regions they serve, as we consider how best to advance that work.

Through the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) Wooster Campus and Ohio State University Extension, Ohio State knowledge lives in every one of the state’s 88 counties. I am impressed with the way Extension describes its purpose: “We fulfill the land-grant mission of The Ohio State University by interpreting knowledge and research developed by Extension and other faculty and staff at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, Ohio State main campus, and other land-grant universities – so Ohioans can use the scientifically based information to better their lives, businesses and communities.” 

That’s really what external engagement is all about: helping our neighbors better their lives and communities. 

President Johnson has laid out an ambitious agenda for this university, focusing on academic, research, service, operational, and talent and culture excellence. I have aligned the work of the Office of Academic Affairs to best support these priorities, and I see a robust agenda of external engagement as a key driver — of academic excellence, research, service, and talent and culture. I have asked Tom Gregoire, dean of the College of Social Work, to help us reimagine outreach and engagement that better aligns our aspirations and institutional priorities. In addition, Ryan Schmiesing, Vice Provost for Outreach and Engagement, will continue to lead our focus on the critical role the regional campuses play as part of the Ohio State system and the state of Ohio. Finally, I have asked Gil Latz, Vice Provost for Global Strategies and International Affairs, to bring his expertise to this conversation. Together with academic leadership and partners across campus and externally, we will focus on deepening and broadening the kinds of external collaborations that generate substantial impact across our state. 

I believe the key to sustaining external engagement with real impact is through authentic, and lasting, partnerships: across our campuses, and with communities, nonprofits, schools, businesses, and local governments and organizations throughout Ohio.