Friday, April 11, 2014

An Engaged University - Provost Elisha "Bear" Baker

This month we have a "guest blogger" -- our Provost, Bear Baker 

As a new graduate of Clemson University, I was hired as faculty in the mid-1970s, just as the textile industry went off-shore.  It was the only industry left in South Carolina, and it was a real crush.  The state legislature turned to the university and said, “Help us to create an economy.”  That’s how I’ve viewed what a university is for, first as a new faculty member, then as Dean of the College of Business & Public Policy, and now as the chief academic administrator.  

All of my life I’ve been out there engaging with community and getting students engaged.  It’s good for the community and good experience for our students.  My philosophy is, “If we’re not connected to community, why should our community see value in our university?”  Universities are being challenged more than ever to contribute to their communities.  As Provost of UAA, I recognize that we are one of those universities. 

We are grateful to have a community that works with us and with our students, getting them involved in real-life projects.   A group of civil engineering students this spring is working with their professor and the Fairview Community Council to design a better snow removal process, a critical need here in Anchorage.  Our nursing students are traveling out to rural communities in Alaska and doing health screenings for youngsters to keep Headstarts open.    In every college of the university, I can find projects and partnerships that remind me of the work our community and state are doing with us and the difference it makes for all of us.

We want to make very visible our commitment to improving student success while helping with real needs in the community and getting our faculty involved too.  I’m committed to working with the Municipality of Anchorage and the State of Alaska in the same way that I was committed in my early days as faculty for Clemson University and the state of South Carolina.  I’ve never stopped doing that.  “How can we help, and in what ways can we be partners to realize the very best outcomes for our students, our communities and the state of Alaska?”  

We’ve become an engaged university, and we welcome input from everyone – students, faculty and community members - as to what more we can do to be in this reciprocal partnership – one community, one university.  The Center for Community Engagement & Learning is a portal to our university for community engagement, as well as my office.  UAA was one of only sixty-two universities nationwide to receive designations from The Carnegie Foundation for curricular engagement and outreach and partnerships in 2006 and again in 2010. This year, UAA will apply again for that designation as “An Engaged University,” trusting that our many and deep relationships with community organizations and state agencies in Alaska demonstrate our commitment to community partnership.  The Carnegie recognition nationwide affirms the value of the opportunities that we have in working together. 

Provost  Elisha “Bear” Baker 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Community Engagement in Action: The Civic Health of a Campus

Civic Health can be defined as "the measure of the civic, social, and political strength of a community" (consensus definition of the American Democracy Project campuses, 2013).  Our 22 campuses engaged together with the ADP Civic Health Initiative project are reviewing our campus civic health as well as the civic health of our communities.  Students in CEL A392 Advanced Civic Health: Community Inquiry & Action, began a review of the community-engaged courses at UAA in Fall of 2013, and the project will continue in Spring 2014.  The students were involved in a participatory action research project that had them working with our Provost-appointed Community Engagement Task Force at UAA.  The Task Force was working on an instrument to designate community-engaged courses and also attempting to collect information on the courses at UAA that would already be designated as community-engaged.

Students noted that as community engagement has become more prevalent in education, universities across the country are measuring the civic health of their campuses (Malm & colleagues, 2013).  UAA received the Carnegie designation for Community Engagement as part of the original cohort in 2006 and was re-designated in 2010.  Currently, UAA as well as other universities are invited to re-apply for designation for 2015 and every 5 years thereafter. The Foundation defines community engagement as "the collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities (local, regional/state, national, global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity"(

UAA Community Engagement Task Force meeting photo
Professor Tracey Burke chairs the Community Engagement Task Force
Integrating community experience with student's academic work is thought to be one of the best ways to prepare students for civic life (Kellogg Commission, 1999), and service-learning is designated by the American Association of Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) as one of six high impact practices.  Students in CEL A392 determined that the UAA campus offers 109 community-engaged courses in 28 different departments with 82 different instructors.  More than 2,000 students enrolled in community-engaged courses in 2012-13.  This is an underestimate of enrollment in community engagement, since response is voluntary, and we have not heard from all faculty.  Students in the course worked with other universities as well to review other methods of designating courses as community engaged and proposed a designation system to the Community Engagement Task Force that will now be forwarded for approval to the UAA Faculty Senate.

So what will the Spring CEL A392 students do?  The spring class will continue to work with the Task Force as a "community partner" and develop a survey of the 82 faculty who are designated as having taught a community-engaged course in 2012-13.  The survey will be short and designed to determine the number of hours that students devote to community engagement, the outcomes for students and community partners, and the type of work that students do while engaged in the community.

Malm, E., Rademacher, N., Dunbar, D., Harris, M., McLaughlin, E., U Nielsen, C. (2013).  Cultivating community-engaged faculty: The institution's role in individual journeys. Journal of Community Engagement and Higher education, 5, 1, pp. 24-35. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Civic Engagement and Local Food

This is a guest post by Kyla Byers, AmeriCorps VISTA with the Food Policy Council and the Alaska State Division of Agriculture.  Kyla is a 2011 graduate of UAA. 

    I started at UAA in 2003 with only the vague idea that I was interested in “environmental issues.” I remained undeclared for 5 years, taking GERs and other courses that interested me. It wasn’t until my two study abroad trips, where I was exposed to new ways of thinking and living, that I developed an interest in sustainable agriculture. When I returned to UAA, I enrolled in the fledgling Environment and Society major. It appealed to me because it focused on both natural sciences and social sciences. It ultimately looked at how humans interact with their environment—including how we grow, distribute and consume food. The more I became involved in food issues, the more I became interested in local food as a means, not only for environmental stewardship, but also for improving food security and nutrition.

    A few civic engagement courses were requirements of my major and piqued my interest in pursuing the Certificate in Civic Engagement as well. Those courses helped me realize that I could be more effective in the work I wanted to do if I became a more engaged member of society. I soon discovered the reward and the sense of purpose gained from actively working in cooperation with others to directly and positively affect my community.

    After graduating, I was lucky enough to find an AmeriCorps VISTA opportunity that exactly matched my interests. Working with the Food Policy Council and the Division of Agriculture, I coordinate the Farmers Market Quest Program which sets markets up to accept SNAP benefits (aka food stamps). As a VISTA, it is my purpose to address issues faced by low-income communities. My work not only helps improve wellness among low-income Alaskans, but supports local farmers who are key to our state’s food security. Because of this position, I have become more ingrained in Alaska’s local food community and had extensive networking and learning opportunities working with people from state government, non-profits and food pantries to farmers, market managers and those on food assistance. I credit my CEL courses with garnering interest in this type of work and see my VISTA position as a huge stepping stone towards a meaningful career advocating for local, nutritious foods.

    As a full circle experience, this summer I had an Environment and Society major, also earning the Certificate in Civic Engagement, who came and completed her Civic Engagement Internship with us at the Farmers Markets!  

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Civic Engagement Certificate Graduate in 2013!

Suzanne Schaffer, majoring in Environment & Society, earned a Certificate in Civic Engagment along with her major and graduated on May 5th with her UAA classmates. 

Suzanne is dedicated to a sustainable environment, and her program reflects that.  Her most recent project was working on a community engagement project in CEL A392, Advanced Civic Engagement: Community Inquiry & Action, assisting the Municipality of Anchorage in their survey of community councils.  With a background in courses ranged from Environmental Ethics to Conservational Biology and International Environmental Issues, Suzanne will be a contribution wherever she goes!  And she's a demonstration for sustainability too -- she commuted to school all winter by bike and bus until her bike was stolen in early spring.  All of our congratualtions and best wishes to Suzanne as she goes forward in her work or further education! 

A Community Engagement Task Force Begins Its Work!

May 1 was the first meeting of the newly appointed Community Engagement Task Force at UAA/CCEL.  Tracey Burke, associate professor in the School of Social Work will serve as Chair for what probably will be a two year initiative, with the first year devoted to the preparation of the application for the Carnegie Foundation designation for Community Engagement & Outreach.

The committee is tasked with the following charge from Provost Baker:

    1.       Oversee the renewal  of the Carnegie “Engaged University” classification application due in April 2014.

    2.       Oversee an audit of current community engagement activity in the University to identify areas of strength and potential.

    3.       Develop strategies and processes for (1) identifying community-engaged courses across the institution, and (2) data collection for outcomes of those       courses for students, faculty, and community partners.

4.       Develop mechanisms to research, develop, and recognize best practices in community engagement both internally and externally.

5.       Confer with faculty and external partners to develop further internship and practicum possibilities throughout the state. 

6.       Work with  agencies to identify sustainable funding sources.

7.       Identify and develop responses for any risk management concerns.

Urban in Alaska Conference at UAA


Urban in Alaska brought together more than 80 people in the Student Union Den at UAA on March 29, 2013.  An interactive conference combined short sessions presented by UAA faculty and community members in panels, followed by lively discussions amongst the entire group! 
The goal of the “The Urban in Alaska” conference and workshop was to bring scholars and community members together to engage in dialogue about current research on Anchorage as an urban space. The conference was sponsored by the UAA Department of Health Sciences and the UAA Center for Community Engagement and Learning. The conference was free and open to the public.
Panels included:

  • Architecture, Public Space & Urban Design with Klaus Meyer, local architect; Sheila Selkregg, Public Administration faculty, Bruce Farnsworth, writer, community organizer, and member of the art group Light Brigade Kor4., and Sharon Chamard, Justice Center faculty.  
  • Health, Education, & Food with Tracey Burke, Social Work faculty; Liz Hodges-Snyder, Health Sciences faculty; Gabriel Garcia, Health Sciences faculty; Diwalkar Vadapalli, Institute of Social & Economic Research faculty.
  • Labor, Migration & Refugees with Sara Komanisky, graduate student in British Columbia; Chad Farrell, Sociology faculty; Judy Owens-Manley, Civic Engagement faculty & Director of the Center for Community Engagement & Learning.  
Kathleen McCoy created a podcast for the March 29 session, and the conference is archived on the KSKA website.  An invited group stayed for lunch and further discussion. 

Feedback from the conference was an overwhelming request to gather again for Urban in Alaska, at least twice a year!  Our intention is to create a website this summer and a possible newsletter and publication!  Stay tuned! 

Monday, December 3, 2012

The UAA Brain Bee: A New Look at the Neuroscience of the Brain!

Caroline Wilson, an Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences and faculty with WWAMI, found a way for UAA students and Anchorage high school students to get interested in a particular kind of science - an enrichment opportunity that gets to the base of who we are and why!  The Brain Bee is an internationally recognized program that was founded by Dr. Norbert Myslinski at the University of Maryland.  It motivates students to learn about the brain, to capture their imaginations and inspire them to pursue careers in biomedical brain research Currently there are 150 locations worldwide that hold Brain Bees, and in 2011, UAA joined them! 
Brain Bee participants
Professor Wilson came to UAA from Dennison University, which had a very big Brain Awareness Week as a part of their regular programming.  Upon arriving here in Anchorage, she heard about the opportunity for community engagement grants when she and this Director met at the Cross Cultural Immersion Project sponsored by the Alaska Humanities Forum.  Wilson added the community engagement component to her Biology A490 class and set goals for the first Brain Bee:
1) Enrich the high school curricula to an understanding of the neuroscience of the brain.
2) Implement community engagement in a Bachelor of Science undergraduate setting.

One issue that arose immediately was the difficulty of creating an entree into the high school science program, but Polaris High School was very interested.  There were 30 UAA students, and they had the choice of going out to present information to the high schoolers, assisting at the Brain Bee event in March, or making posters about the brain for a library poster display.  Wilson laughs about the difficulty in planning a new event when you're not a planner! 
The Brain Bee incorporates 10 short answer questions from a guide that is used internationally, and 3 UAA faculty functioned as the judges.  Eight high school students participated from six area high schools, and cash prizes of $100, $75, and $50 were given to the top three students.  The second annual Brian Bee is scheduled for February 16, 2013 with plans for more student participation on both the high school and university sites!  The winner this year will travel with a parent to the National Brain Bee competition in Washington D.C. just a few weeks after the Anchorage competition.