Q&A with Contributors to Metropolitan Universities Journal 2016 Conference Issue

Last year attendees from across the country convened in Washington D.C. for the CUMU Annual Conference. The conference theme, Charting the Future of Metropolitan Universities, called attendees to come together to propose and discuss solutions that address some of the biggest challenges in urban and metropolitan universities today. Issue 28.2, “the conference issue,” of Metropolitan Universities journal highlighted a number of conference presentations and speeches covering a broad range of topics, from community engagement and entrepreneurship to student success and social justice.

We recently reached out to contributors to learn about their experience presenting at the conference, learn what makes a good journal article, and to follow up on some of their work.

Q&A with Mary Ann Villareal

Mary Ann Villarreal, California State University at Fullerton

Mary Ann Villarreal, Ph.D.

Mary Ann Villarreal, Assistant Vice President, Strategic Initiatives at California State University, Fullerton, served as guest editor for the D.C. Conference Issue. The 2016 conference was held at the height of pre-election anxieties and many attendees questioned how post-election policies would impact the efforts of higher education. In her introduction to Issue 28.2, Mary Ann noted “These conversations are especially critical now, as urban and metropolitan institutions, regardless of type or size, increasingly face new social justice challenges both on their campus and in their local communities.”

Read Mary Ann’s introduction to Issue 28.2 in its entirety.

What were the highlights of the conference for you?
The highlight came in the form of inspiration. I was inspired by the impact of social justice activism through community engagement. The needs of local communities vary and to know that institutions are listening is powerful. They are responding in ways that change the old framework where the institution is the “sage on the stage” providing assistance and are working in true partnership with community neighborhoods and agencies.

Was there one presentation or idea that really stood out to you?
MSU Denver presented their model of innovation that responds to the fiscal reality of declining state funding. Their partnership with Marriott to create an expansive curriculum in the hospitality industry and in addition, create a new cohort of sommeliers, stood out to me. MSU Denver serves a majority underrepresented, first-generation, pell grant population and to stake a claim in this opportunity spoke not only to their creative response to a funding need, but their commitment to their students.

The authors for the conference issue of Metropolitan Universities journal all presented their work at the conference. What in your opinion makes for a good CUMU conference presentation?
The best presentations demonstrated the collaborative nature of community engagement work. The amount of background work needed to launch an initiative and make it sustainable often stems from the work of numerous partners. Conference presentations that can illustrate how collaboration looks on their campus and provide models are very helpful.

On the other hand, do you have any tips for prospective Metropolitan Universities journal authors for what makes a good article?
I have two tips: Even though you are the expert in the work you do on your campus, know the literature that supports your work. Remember that readers seek promising practices, so evidence of outcomes provide readers some grounding on how to frame a similar initiative.

Q&A with Towson University Faculty

Towson University professors Samuel Collins and Matthew Durington, and Nicole Fabricant‘s presentation, Teaching Baltimore Together: Building Thematic Cooperation Between Classes, looked at strategies for cross curricular enhancement based on community engagement and social justice after the death of Freddie Grey and resulting unrest in Baltimore.

Read Teaching Baltimore Together: Building Thematic Cooperation Between Classes in Issue 28.2.

Your piece “Teaching Baltimore Together: building thematic cooperation between classes” spoke to an issue that was at once addressing both a local and national issue. How did it feel to bring your work to a platform like the CUMU Annual Conference?
The CUMU annual conference provided an opportunity for us to discuss our community engagement work with other individuals attempting similar work at peer institutions. We were grateful that we were put on a panel with colleagues from the University of Baltimore formulating their own responses and strategies in Baltimore City so we could learn from one another.

How was your work received?
The work was received really well by our colleagues and the audience with many taking it to heart that we were trying to utilize strategies for engagement that came from long term rapport building and simple things like showing up in a traditional school bus instead of an emblazoned tour bus in order to avoid being seen as voyeurs. We were also excited that Wes Moore attended our presentation.

How did you translate your ideas from the presentation into a paper?
We were able to incorporate feedback from audience members into the paper and it made us think about providing step-by-step proscriptive recommendations at the end of the article for this type of community engagement based on that feedback. It is exciting that folks wanted a guideline for how to do the same type or engagement practice.

Your team covers several different departments. How was the experience of collaborating across fields to address these pertinent issues?
It takes a lot of rapport building to create effective community engagement with our collaborators in Baltimore City. Equally, it takes many conversations with our colleagues and interlocutors at Towson University to not only plan and develop curriculum wraparounds for the engagement opportunity, but also to align various factions on campus to support the initiative. This is perhaps the most rewarding outcome…the fact that we were able to create an interdisciplinary community engagement project that tied into curriculum, had a demonstrated outcome and have Towson University support it.

Do you have recommendations for other institutions who are confronting similar challenges?
It is imperative that local input be taken into account when doing any form of community engagement. Too often institutions have the best intentions but do not necessarily consider the needs of the communities they are collaborating with which can lead to misunderstandings and resentment. It is important to not promise the ‘moon and the stars’ but start off with honest conversations about what both parties hope to get out of the collaboration.

What advice do you have for other scholars interested in presenting at the CUMU Annual Conference?
It is great to have a forum to present this work but think about going beyond your disciplinary audience. There are folks from all types of academic backgrounds and it is productive to make sure your work is translatable to individuals who may be working in administrative positions or in other disciplinary backgrounds.

What was the highlight of the conference for you?
The highlight of the conference was being able to have dialogue and see how a variety of institutions are attempting to create productive community engagement both within the faculty ranks in terms of projects/curriculum and how this aligns with larger institutional priorities and plans…it’s a learning experience!