Across the United States and Canada, many CUMU member institutions are committed to place-based engagements (Yamamura & Koth, 2018) and value them as a powerful way to connect the resources and investments of the campus to the development of communities in ways that foster mutually beneficial impacts.

A growing number of CUMU member institutions are undertaking hyperlocal engagement—strategically organized community engagement efforts to focus on a bounded area within its larger city or metropolitan region in ways that enhance the institution’s ability to form partnerships and advance community development.

In spring 2019, Lina Dostilio, Ed.D., associate vice chancellor for community engagement at the University of Pittsburgh, was announced as CUMU’s first research fellow. Recognizing hyperlocal engagement as a growing area of practice among CUMU member institutions, Dr. Dostilio completed a benchmarking study, as part of her fellowship, to catalog the diversity of hyperlocal engagement strategies and to investigate which areas of community capacity were of interest to hyperlocal engagements. The research study was supported by the Kresge Foundation.


CITE THIS GUIDE: Dostilio, L. D., Ohmer, M. L., McFadden, K., Mathew, S., & Finkelstein, C. (2019). Building Community Capacity via Place-Based Hyperlocal Engagement. Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities (CUMU).

Oceanside is in our University’s service region; we have a guaranteed admission MOU with the Oceanside School District; we are the only public four-year institution in the region. All these factors influenced our decision to participate and engage with the Promise.

California State University San Marcos

The future of our institution is intertwined with the future of our community.

University of Minnesota

As an Anchor Institution, we have a shared interest with our neighbors in a safe, vibrant, and healthy Cedar Riverside neighborhood.

Augsburg University

Hyperlocal Engagement Profiles

Within this benchmarking study, hyperlocally engaged institutions value partnership and co-creation and feel resident-centered community capacities are highly important. Highlighted below are four place-based hyperlocal engagements from DePaul University, University of Pittsburgh, Simon Fraser University, and University of San Diego.

Back of the Yards Hub


An example of the way DePaul’s relationship with Back of the Yards community comes to life is through their partnership with the neighborhood’s San Miguel Middle School. This partnership consists of layered courses, activities and a faculty institute to plan for future course partnerships. A three year graduate student serves as the school’s Community Organizer and liaison for this project. The Community Organizer is at the school three times a week coordinating tutoring, getting to know students, parents and staff, and fostering relationships with community based programs. Through his work at San Miguel Middle School, he has been supporting efforts to open a neighborhood community center and to provide different courses and activities that are tailored to students, families and community needs, including arts, music, and educational programming.

Community Engagement Centers


The Research for Equity and Power Project is a partnership between the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Social Work, Community Engagement Center, and Homewood Children’s Village, a non-profit that takes a cradle to career approach to community building. This project engages Homewood residents as leaders to respond to development in the area that has impacted the quality of life of people who live there. It engages residents in a Community Based Participatory Research Project that fosters civic engagement in and influence over equitable development in the neighborhood. Led by Dr.Ohmer, from the School of Social Work, and Dr. Tharp-Gilliam, from the Homewood Children’s Village, this project engages residents around civic engagement, development and equity, in addition to exploring what perceived power residents have to tackle issues of development that arise. Through this project, the residents have created an advocacy plan that they can utilize to impact development and neighborhood change in Homewood.

Simon Fraser Surrey–TD Community Engagement Centre


The geographic location of the SFU Surrey Campus in the heart of the Surrey City Centre community has provided unique opportunities for engagement and participation within the community. The Early Learning for Families (ELF) program is a partnership between the Surrey School District, Central City Shopping Centre and the SFU Surrey – TD Community Engagement Centre. ELF is a pop-up early learning program for children ages 0-5 and their families focusing on child-centered and play-based learning, parent engagement, and community connections. As the program takes place at the Central City Shopping Centre, in the same building the SFU Surrey Campus is located, it increases access to early learning programming for families who are not yet engaging with the school system. It also brings Early Learning activities out of the schools and into public spaces to promote engagement with new and underserved demographics. ELF is delivered by Surrey School District staff members with support from SFU student volunteers who benefit from the community-engaged learning experience.

Mulvaney Center for Community Awareness and Social Action


CASA’s Youth Engagement Initiative (YEI) recognizes the high-impact of place-based initiatives and their potential to help close the opportunity gap. YEI is a local immersion program that trains 80 work-study students to serve as classroom mentors for up to 10 hours a week at low-income K-12 schools in the Linda Vista community. A community partner also serves as a co-educator. Mentors are well prepared for this work as they are trained by community members and in Critical Pedagogy, Culturally Responsive Teaching, and Social Constructivist theory. In addition to their time spent in the classroom, the mentors support the co-creation of programs in the Linda Vista community that are in line with neighborhood needs, exposing them to learning beyond their classes. 80% of the Mentors in this program are first generation college students, students of color, and/or low income students. This allows the students they work with to see that college is attainable and also encourages students to build strong relationships with their mentors that results in reciprocal learning and empathy development.

Mapping Hyperlocal Engagements Across the CUMU Membership

Responses to a survey of CUMU member institutions provided information about 35 engagements across 32 communities within the U.S. and Canada. Of these, 26 were hyperlocal in that they focused on a bounded area within a larger city or metropolitan region. The 26 instances of hyperlocal engagement came from 22
institutions. The interactive map below highlights these engagements.

Click the toggle icon in the upper left of the map to see interactive legend.

About CUMU’s Hyperlocal Research Team

In spring 2019, CUMU created a research fellowship to support inquiry that would identify, implement and evaluate innovative strategies to address regional opportunities, ambitions and needs regarding hyperlocal engagements. This report was produced as part of the project undertaken by the 2019 Research Fellow, Lina Dostilio, Ed.D.