ECU Launches New Outreach Scholars Academy
By Christine Neff
Beth Velde, professor of occupational therapy and assistant dean in the College of Allied Health Sciences, knows the importance of community engagement in scholarly work.
For 11 years, she has partnered with the small, North Carolina community of Tillery on research, health services, grants and publications. The benefits, she said, have flowed both ways.
“Tillery has been my teacher,” Velde said. “I always said, they have given me far more than I have ever done for their community.”
Now, Velde will be encouraging other ECU faculty members to pursue scholarship related to community outreach, partnership and curricular engagement as the director of ECU’s new Engagement and Outreach Scholars Academy.
Ted Morris, associate vice chancellor for Engagement, Innovation and Economic Development, said, “The academy was developed out of recognition that more could be done to support and enhance faculty knowledge and capacity to secure external funding and conduct scholarly work throughout the region. The academy is an important part of ECU’s response to the UNC Tomorrow Commission and the university’s application to the Carnegie Foundation for the Foundation’s Engaged University Classification.”
Housed within the Office of Engagement, Innovation and Economic Development, the academy’s purpose is to cultivate engaged scholars who can be leaders in their professions while working with communities to improve quality of life and foster economic prosperity.
Eight faculty members will embark on the program next spring. Representing a range of disciplines, these tenure-track and fixed-term faculty members were nominated by their deans and chosen by a selection committee.
In spring 2009, they will attend six, two-hour workshops to learn about community-based research and the resources available to them on campus, and work with a coach to develop their own research plans. In the fall, scholars who complete the program will be given a seed grant to help launch their studies.
Velde said ECU, its students and community partners will benefit from the program. The academy will raise ECU’s profile as an engaged, doctoral institution and leverage external grants for faculty research, she said. “The scholarship of engagement and work with community has become a high profile issue for universities across the nation, and, I think because of ECU’s motto, ‘To Serve,’ this fits really well with what we’ve done in the past,” Velde said.
ECU’s community partners will gain by partnering with scholars on high-quality research projects. “These projects will start to address some really difficult needs in our communities, for example, the health disparities issue, the difficulties that K-12 schools are experiencing and some of the environmental issues that are prevalent in this region,” Velde said.
Research can involve global initiatives, though studies focused on eastern North Carolina will be encouraged.
Deirdre Mageean, vice chancellor for research and graduate studies, said that, through the academy, ECU will “enhance the already strong link this university has with the communities of eastern North Carolina.”
“It is clear the people of North Carolina have tremendous faith in their public institutions. They look to us to help them deal with societal problems in traditional and innovative ways,” she said.
Students will benefit from the service-learning opportunities that develop from these projects. “I think we will see a growth, not so much in the number of service-learning courses, but in our understanding of what makes a quality experience for students,” Velde said.
Velde is excited to head the academy, especially since much of her academic career has engaged the greater community. In addition to her work in Tillery, she has done quality-of-life research with the Caswell Center and the Parent Support Group for Children with Asperger’s Syndrome, and has organized service-learning projects throughout the region.
“This is an evolution in my role at ECU, and it represents something that has been meaningful to me, both personally and professionally. I’m very excited about it,” she said.
Mageean described the choice of Velde to lead the program as a “no-brainer.” “I think it is always best when you can have somebody lead by example,” Mageean said. “Beth can walk the walk, as well as talk the talk.”
The next set of scholars will enter the academy in Fall 2009. For information, contact Beth Velde at 737-1377 or e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.