Relationship building and collaboration are critical components in furthering the urban mission. Connections among CUMU members are oftentimes initiated or strengthened at our annual conference. When the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down in March, we were confident, albeit naïve, that we would still be able to convene our annual conference in San Diego in October. As the pandemic worsened, it became clear that wouldn’t happen.

Two phrases have been shared quite a bit these past few months: “we’re building the plane while flying it” and “don’t let a serious crisis go to waste.” Traditionally, in times of uncertainty, individuals and organizations reach out to trusted sounding boards, but there was not time to waste. Higher education leaders had to (and continue to) act quickly, and many have workshopped creative solutions that may have been deemed too unorthodox or unrealistic in the past.

CUMU staff, our executive committee, advisors, and members spent a significant amount of time over the summer brainstorming and collaborating on how we could support one another to help our members who were “building the plane while flying it.” One of the outcomes was launching the Learning & Sharing Virtual Series. The series was different than any programming we had ever undertaken, but it was an astounding success.

I think that your openness, two-way process of learning, and authentic partnership with community members and others is so important, and a model for addressing the thorniest of social problems in this moment.

Racism isn’t episodic or singular… needed to hear these [strategies] today! Thank you for all these engagement tools and sharing your experience.

During the ten-week member-only series, leaders shared best practices, developed panel presentations, facilitated community conversations, led interactive action-oriented workshops on six issue areas.

  • Centering anti-racism in our urban mission agendas and initiatives
  • The urban university role in combating the COVID-19 public health crisis
  • Criminal justice, police reform, and public safety
  • Economic development amid the COVID-19 crisis and recovery
  • Re-examining community engagement: pivoting and adapting in socially distant environments
  • Student success (K-12 through higher education) during a crisis.

Throughout the ten weeks, individuals joined sessions who had never attended an in-person conference, some registrants came to one session, where others participated in more than a dozen. The series allowed members to participate at their own leisure or join conversations that were especially relevant to a topic they were seeking to address within their own professional role or institution. Additionally, many presentations featured the voices of students and community partners—which can be difficult to carry-out at an in person event due to cost and timing.

Access to knowledge and learning among a broad range of people—from undergraduate students to university presidents—was achieved with this series. CUMU was thrilled to see such diverse participation, especially because higher education is known to work in large, decentralized, and oftentimes siloed settings. These silos can begin to break through improved communication, and forced adaptations have allowed us to realize that there is so much potential.

It is inspiring to see what you are tackling and your willingness to share with all of us within the CUMU network! Our work is truly messy, and especially how best to ensure the mutual participation of and value for community partners.  THANK YOU.

Racism isn’t episodic or singular… needed to hear these [strategies] today! Thank you for all these engagement tools and sharing your experience.

A request that we got at nearly every session was, “will this session be recorded?” and “will you be sharing the slides?” Attendees wanted to refer back to the information and also share material with colleagues. This signifies how important and valuable our collective work is. Listed below are a some of the top sessions based on attendance—all with 100+ attendees—but we will be developing an inventory of recordings and materials—so stay tuned for more.

The Spring 2021 Learning & Sharing Virtual Series will be launched early next year. CUMU is excited to continue providing a platform for members to come together and advance the urban mission.

View the 2020 Learning & Sharing Virtual Series program (PDF).