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University of Minnesota Commits to Sustainable Partnerships

Case Studies
   Low altitude aerial photograph, looking northwest, of the Minneapolis campus of the University of Minnesota straddling the Mississippi River. The skyline of downtown Minneapolis is in the middle ground at the left edge of the photograph.
   Photograph taken at street level of the UROC of the front façade of the UROC office building, a one-story, flat roofed structure with large windows along much of the length of the façade. Off-street parking and landscaping are in the foreground in front of the building.
   Photograph taken from an elevated position of a computer room, with 14 computers and 10 students at a U-shaped table. At the open end of the table, an instructor is pointing to an enlarged projection of the computer screen.
   Picture of the cover of the Ten-Point Plan. Three photographs are arranged horizontally: four boys looking at some of the plants that surround them; the skyline of downtown Minneapolis; and a man looking at the camera, with vegetation and a waterbody in the background. Between the first two pictures is the full title of the plan: A Ten-Point Plan for Advancing and Institutionalizing Public Engagement at the University of Minnesota. The name of plan’s author, the University of Minnesota’s Office for Public Engagement, overlays the top photograph (boys among plants), and the university’s four campuses —Crookston, Duluth, Morris, Rochester, Twin Cities — are listed along the bottom of the cover.
   Photograph of a meeting room with approximately 25 people sitting at 5 round tables.

Home > Case Studies > University of Minnesota Commits to Sustainable Partnerships


University of Minnesota Commits to Sustainable Partnerships


With a main campus in the Twin Cities, 4 branch campuses, and 16 regional extension offices, the University of Minnesota has an established presence in diverse communities throughout the state. “The U,” as the university is known to Minnesotans, contributes an estimated $8.6 billion to the state’s economy each year in goods and services.1 As of 2010, the U was Minnesota’s fifth largest employer, supporting almost 79,500 jobs for faculty, staff, and students in all levels of study.2 As a land grant university, the U has been committed to civic engagement with the state and its local communities for decades through various efforts, including numerous projects initiated by its research centers. Recently, the U’s senior administration has made engagement a priority across the university’s campuses and extension offices.

Collaboration in East St. Paul

Since 1968, the university’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA) has connected the U with individuals and organizations statewide to work on Minnesota’s economy, social and human services, community development initiatives, and other issues.3 CURA administered a HUD-funded Community Outreach Partnership Centers (COPC) program through which it offered research and technical assistance to East St. Paul. CURA, in partnership with Macalester College and Metropolitan State University, received COPC grants in 1998 and 2001, and over several years, the universities assisted a steering committee and task forces representing the area’s ethnic groups. East St. Paul needed reinvestment because of deindustrialization, a deteriorating housing stock, and lack of quality jobs.4 Together, the task forces, the steering committee, and university faculty and staff undertook more than 75 local projects that improved housing, employment, and workforce development in the COPC-targeted area. Through this collaboration, East Side organizations gained manpower and public exposure, and student research assistants gained firsthand experience in community development. CURA has remained involved in East St. Paul, according to Will Craig, current associate director at CURA, in part because of the successes and new partnerships made through the COPC program.5

On-the-Ground Partnerships in North Minneapolis

The Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC), one of the U’s newer research centers, is located in the North Minneapolis area it serves. Building on relationships formed between the university and residents of the city’s Northside communities in the early 2000s, UROC collaborates with small local nonprofits to address the area’s economic challenges.6 Lauren Martin, UROC’s director of research, explains that the 22,000-square-foot center was designed to facilitate dozens of partnerships.7 UROC’s safe and inviting space includes a computer lab for Northside residents and community rooms and office space for groups that are addressing community issues.8,9 The center houses an active public art gallery featuring local and nationally recognized artists.

UROC also participates directly in community partnerships. According to Martin, when residents approach UROC for assistance with community issues, action research teams of university faculty and staff take on the projects.10 For example, residents raised sex trafficking, one of Martin’s areas of expertise, as a concern and worked with UROC to develop a project to better understand trafficking and stop the exploitation of youth in the Twin Cities.11 UROC’s Job Creation Team, composed of representatives of UROC, the city of Minneapolis, local businesses, and the African-American faith community, is another collaborative research effort with the goal of creating 1,000 jobs in five years.12 The team has conducted market research and indexed commercial properties on real estate brokers’ websites to persuade companies offering living-wage jobs to locate in North Minneapolis. UROC’s participation in these partnerships has shown Northside residents how the U’s involvement can improve conditions in their community.

UROC also consistently works to strengthen its relationship and to build a foundation of trust with residents, who have been apprehensive about the university’s intentions for locating in the Northside. After a tornado tore through North Minneapolis in 2010, UROC staff attended several local response team meetings to determine whether UROC could provide any assistance.13 The staff offered the center as a hub for 500 volunteers in the days following the disaster and trained many of them to collect data on Northside residents’ needs and housing conditions.14 UROC also coordinated with the local radio station to provide donations of food and transportation to hospitals. One year after the tornado, the community agreed that the radio station should broadcast its anniversary story from UROC. Martin believes that UROC’s anchoring presence was legitimized during the tornado recovery.

Engagement as a Broader University Goal

With the support of its provost in 2000, the U formed task forces and councils of faculty, staff, and students to analyze its public engagement agenda and recommend how to make public engagement a formal goal of the university. Out of this work, the university created the Office for Public Engagement (OPE) in 2005. Andy Furco became the first senior-level administrator of the university’s public engagement strategy when he was appointed associate vice president for public engagement in 2008. For the U, public engagement is an important component of high-quality outreach, research, and teaching.15A Ten-Point Plan for Advancing and Institutionalizing Public Engagement at the University of Minnesota” developed under Furco’s supervision sets the university’s agenda to incorporate public engagement across these areas.

The plan allows the university to systematically evaluate the effect of diverse engagement initiatives, foster sustainable relationships in the community, and further the U’s institutional goals.16 Under the plan, OPE oversees and engages diverse stakeholders in task forces and other efforts. Amber Cameron, associate director of public engagement initiatives for OPE, specified that the office has focused recently on Point Two of the Ten Points, Accounting and Assessment, by collecting data on student engagement as well as through research and teaching that incorporates engagement activities. OPE has also addressed Point Eight of the plan, Internal Networking, by hosting workshops for faculty from all disciplines to inform them about the benefits of including public engagement in their teaching, research, and career paths. OPE’s annual retreat, also designed to foster networking within the university community, convenes university faculty and staff and focuses on how to advance various aspects of the plan.

From Projects to Partnerships

Even before the Ten-Point Plan, CURA, UROC, and other university research centers used their projects to cultivate partnerships between local organizations and the university. The plan takes the university’s public engagement agenda to the next level by formalizing its comprehensive approach to engagement, its focus on cultivating sustainable connections with the community, and its emphasis on supporting student and faculty leaders in long-term commitments to engagement. The University of Minnesota has taken its role both as an engaged land grant institution and as an anchor in Minnesota’s surrounding cities and towns seriously, moving its work “from projects to partnerships.”17

  1. University of Minnesota. “Economic Impact: Facts at a Glance.” Accessed 18 September 2013.

  2. Ibid.

  3. Center for Urban and Regional Affairs. “History of CURA.” Accessed 4 October 2013.

  4. Center for Urban and Regional Affairs. Winter 2001-2002. CURA Reporter, 32:1. Accessed 10 October 2013.

  5. Email communication with Will Craig, associate director, Center for Urban and Regional Affairs, 12 October 2013.

  6. Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center. “UROC History.” Accessed 20 September 2013.

  7. Interview with Lauren Martin, director of research, Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center, 15 October 2013.

  8. Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center. “Emerging Research and Ongoing Programs.” Accessed 20 September 2013.

  9. University of Minnesota Board of Regents. 2009. The Alignment of Leadership Development and Participatory Action Research (PAR): One Process and Product From the University Northside Partnership. Accessed 25 September 2013.

  10. Interview with Lauren Martin.

  11. Ibid.

  12. Ibid.

  13. Ibid.

  14. Ibid.

  15. Interview with Amber Cameron, associate director of public engagement initiatives, Office for Public Engagement, 10 October 2013.

  16. Office for Public Engagement. “A Ten-Point Plan for Advancing and Institutionalizing Public Engagement at the University of Minnesota.” Accessed 18 September 2013.

  17. Interview with Amber Cameron.


The contents of this article are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the U.S. Government.