Engaging the Community

Community Conversations

Photo by Patricia DeVoe

School of Social Ecology and UCI Engage lead conversation

About 50 representatives of community agencies, nonprofit organizations and the School of Social Ecology recently gathered in Costa Mesa for the first “Community Conversations,” led by Dean Nancy Guerra.

Hosted by the School and UCI Engage, the event’s purpose was to explore ways the university and community can expand partnerships and better serve each other’s missions.

“We need to solve the important social and environmental challenges and we need to be relevant,” Guerra said at the gathering. “The only way we can be relevant is to connect with people working on the ground in multiple ways.”

As the University’s strategic plan emphasizes: “A core mission of UCI is service to the community. Effective service requires deeply inclusive community engagement — the exchange of information, ideas, and resources — to benefit both the university and the community.”

The goals, Guerra said, “are to build an engagement culture, to create an anteater for life ethos and to become a strong partner with community organizations.”

Three faculty members who partner with community organizations to do research and tackle issues that concern the public spoke about their projects.

Jessica Borelli, associate professor of psychological science, who is working with Latino Health Access, discussed developing and executing an intervention program aimed at strengthening relationships between parents and teens.

David L. Feldman, director of Water UCI, spoke about Water UCI’s partnership with several water districts in Orange County and other universities who are involved in tackling water sustainability challenges. He also told about a project that engages Orange County middle schools by having teachers and UCI students help eighth-graders learn about and come up with innovative water conservation projects.

Elizabeth Cauffman, professor psychological science, spoke about her partnership with the Orange County Superior Court and the Young Adult Court, a collaborative court for felony offenders between the ages of 18 and 25.

UCI Engage is the university’s hub charged with supporting, amplifying and celebrating campus and community partnerships that are collaborative, empowering and transformative.

Launched in 2017 as a result of one of the university’s strategic plan initiatives to build and strengthen UCI’s engagement culture, UCI Engage’s core activities include coordinating and communicating campus engagement activities on- and off-campus, building capacity among campus and community partners to fuel meaningful engagement and fostering emerging collaborations.

More specifically, UCI Engage:

  • connects community partners with campus courses, internships, research and service activities to address concerns of local communities;
  • coordinates with campus scholars, programs and initiatives to connect partnership efforts and generates community engagement opportunities; and
  • communicates and celebrates established and emerging campus-community partnerships.

Housed in the School of Social Ecology, UCI Engage is directed by Guerra and the UCI Engage advisory board, which is comprised of representatives from various campus units and two faculty members from each UCI school.

The website, engage.uci.edu, features a searchable database with more than 200 programs and initiatives that emphasize community-engaged research and teaching. Videos and stories about the ways faculty members and community partners collaborate to address and solve problems also are featured on the website.

As part of the initiative, UCI Engage holds an annual event to award exemplary partnerships between faculty members, students and community agencies.

The second awards event was held in May. The awards and honorees:

  • Alumni Great Partner Awards — Dr. Victor Cisneros, School of Medicine; Orange County Superior Court Judge Maria Hernandez; Tony Ortiz, UCI Alumni Association; and Furhan Zubairi, chaplain of the Muslim Student Union.
  • Faculty Great Partner Awards — Dr. Lisa Gibbs, School of Medicine; and Jane Page, Claire Trevor School of the Arts.
  • Graduate Student Great Partner Awards — Dallas Augustine, Social Ecology and Criminology, Law and Society; Mark Baldwin, Information and Computer Systems, Informatics; Kimberly Duong, Civil and Environmental Engineering; Donald Tan, School of Medicine; and Jessica Walden, School of Physical Sciences, Earth System Science.
  • Staff Great Partner Awards — Nicole Gilbertson, School of Humanities; Matthew Hanson, Applied Innovation; Sarah Kimball, School of Biological Sciences; Jennifer Long, School of Biological Sciences; and Manuella Yassa, Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory.
  • Undergraduate Student Great Partner Awards — Nicole Balbuena, School of Social Science; Stephen John Cruz, School of Biological Sciences; Herschell Dayag, Public Health; and Julie Lim, School of Business.

— Mimi Ko Cruz