January 31, 2010

The Front Porch: New mentoring program one way to help build community

Do you recall the last time you enjoyed a visit on a front porch? Perhaps you chatted with a neighbor about how to solve a problem on Main Street, or maybe a friend came over to brainstorm about how to launch a new business. It seems to me that a whole lot of good thinking and old fashioned community building takes place on front porches – it’s a nice place to spend some time and sort out next steps.

The front porch is a metaphor we often like to use for the Center for Community Partnerships (CCP) at the University of Wisconsin–Parkside. We strive to be a front porch for the University as community members come for a visit and decide whether to spend a bit of time with students, faculty and staff. Community members may choose to step from our porch into the door of a classroom or conference, or experience some other opportunity our campus has to offer. There are also many instances when our faculty, staff and students step off the porch and venture into the community. A campus community member might engage in a service-learning or research project, provide expertise for a local business or organization, or participate in a collaborative effort to address a regional need like workforce development or educational attainment.

At the CCP, our primary focus areas are nonprofit development, community-based scholarship, continuing education for teachers and other professionals, and community development and diversity issues. In this column, my colleague Debra Karp and I will not only let you know about some innovative programs and opportunities that you can explore at the university and in the community, but also about various resources that are at your fingertips.

The Front Porch will inevitably celebrate significant UW-Parkside grant awards like the $1,000,000 we recently received from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to foster nonprofit capacity building, or the $500,000 awarded by the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to expand mentoring in middle schools, or the $300,000 from the National Science Foundation to support science teaching efforts, particularly in grades 3 – 8 in urban schools. But more importantly, we will explain what we’re doing with the resources we garner and how you can benefit from and collaborate in the work that takes place.

To be clear, community engagement does not only happen at the CCP. As our new Chancellor Deborah Ford is quick to point out, community engagement is a hallmark at UW-Parkside that permeates throughout the University. In fact, our university wide community engagement efforts have been recognized by the Carnegie Foundation that chose us as the first public post-secondary learning institution in the state to be honored for service-learning and community partnership efforts.

Since community engagement is a university wide priority, this column will also highlight community engagement efforts across campus. You will learn about star-studded teaching and outreach efforts like when our Theatre Arts Department recently earned the first University of Wisconsin Regents Teaching Excellence Award ever bestowed upon an arts department. We might also share news about some nifty global partnerships like when Professor and Fulbright Scholar Jonathan Olsen connects with colleagues in Germany to co-author a book, or when he creates an international learning opportunity for students. Have a chat with Prof. Olsen and he will likely urge you to “Die Welt erleben,” or “Experience the World.”

Yes, there may be some boasting on our front porch just like grandpa used to do, but more importantly, we hope to stimulate thinking and prompt opportunities to meet community needs and spark new partnerships. We won’t just pontificate about building social and economic capital – we’ll do it right here in this column by helping you make connections and provide pieces of information that are relevant and meaningful.

Each column will end with three “Front Porch Rockers” that provide opportunities for you to engage with the University and/or the community. Here are today’s rockers:

Front Porch Rockers

1) Become a Mentor: Mentor Kenosha & Racine is making a big push to recruit mentors for sixth graders in the Racine and Kenosha Unified School Districts. Learn how you can become a mentor at www.mentorkr.org or call (262) 595-2635.

2) Apply for a Nonprofit Capacity Building Grant: Attend the “CAN Works Launch” on February 4 to learn how local nonprofit organizations can get grants and technical support to help to sustain and grow their efforts. Learn more at www.uwp.edu (keyword: nonprofit development) or call (262) 595-2312.

3) Attend a Play: The Theatre Arts Department presents a one act play festival on through Jan. 31 entitled “Delights in Dementia.” Learn more at http://www.uwp.edu/news/newstemp.cfm?storyID=3250 or call (262) 595-2547.

So please pull up a chair, spend some time on your university’s front porch, and let’s see together what problems we can solve, partnerships we can create, and learning and laughter we can enjoy.

Mark Gesner is the Director of Community Development & Dialogues at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. Contact him directly at mark.gesner@uwp.edu.

1 comment:

  1. Mark,

    I applaud your effort and look forward to learning more.

    I might suggest you take a step back and look at all the program names, jargon, and buzz words in your communication. People who simply work for a living, outside academia (even those of us with advanced degrees)are hard pressed to distill the meaning of it all...to us.