By Kirsten Barnes, Center for Community-Based Partnerships

Dr.Samory T. Pruitt, Vice President For Community Affairs

Auburn and Alabama share more in common than winning back-to-back national football championships. Their admission into the National Outreach Scholarship Conference (NOSC) gave Alabama the honor of being the first state with two members in the world's leading organization for the scholarship of engagement.

And now, by co-sponsoring several events, the two institutions are on the same team for NOSC 2012, scheduled for Sept. 30"“Oct. 3 on the University of Alabama campus.

More than 600 delegates from 75 universities and colleges from 35 states, Canada and Africa are expected to attend the conference with the theme Partner. Inspire. Change.

Some 239 research proposals in three tracks have been accepted for presentation, 63 from Auburn and Alabama personnel and their community partners. In all 145 faculty and staff, 60 students and 34 community partners had proposals accepted.

Dr. Royrickers Cook, Auburn University, Vice President for Outreach

A highlight will be "Barbecue, Blues, and Blue Jeans," co-sponsored by the two universities and featuring homegrown Alabama foods in The Zone of Bryant-Denny Stadium on Monday, Oct. 1, and a local blues band from the Alabama Blues Project based in Tuscaloosa.

In addition to the overall conference, Auburn and Alabama scholars will also play a role in Emerging Engagement Scholars, a group of young scholars and graduate students from around the nation selected on the basis of their interest in engagement scholarship. The group meets each year during NOSC. Cheryl Morgan, the Urban Studio director in Auburn's School of Architecture, will speak to the group on community partnerships on Saturday, Sept. 29.  Dr. Rebecca Reamey, a post-doctoral researcher at the Center for Community-Based Partnerships (CCBP), is the local organizer of the workshop.

Mark Wilson, a College of Liberal Arts faculty member instrumental in Auburn's new community and civic engagement minor, will be one of the leaders of an extended field trip into the Alabama Black Belt on the last day of the conference. The trip will take conference attendees to various civil rights sites and signature engagement scholarship projects, including the Pie Lab, the Civil Rights Museum, and Auburn's Rural Studio.

The focus of NOSC 2012 will be on engagement scholarship, an integrated approach to higher education that combines teaching and research to solve critical problems through community partnerships. The term "engagement scholarship" was first used by Ernest Boyer in his 1996 critique of "ivory tower" scholarship, or scholarship without real-world value.

According to Dr. Royrickers Cook, assistant vice president for University Outreach, Auburn University established its reputation as a land-grant university by helping communities solve their most serious problems. And 10 years before the sesquicentennial of becoming the South's first land-grant college, Auburn continues to help not only the people of Alabama but also countries around the world.

UA also has a tradition using its resources to help solve community problems at home and abroad, said Dr. Samory T. Pruitt, UA's vice president for Community Affairs.

In 2007, UA became the first non-land-grant institution to become a member of NOSC, and Auburn joined two years later. Both Pruitt and Cook are members of the NOSC board of directors. They are especially pleased to be working together on NOSC 2012.

"Here at Auburn," said Cook, "we take being a land-grant university to heart. We look to connect our faculty, staff and students to the world. We address real problems for real people." Pruitt added, "By bringing this important international conference to Alabama, these two great institutions will showcase our state's progress in science and engineering as well as in the arts, social sciences and the humanities."

Here are two examples among hundreds that illustrate how the two institutions fulfill their commitment to the people of Alabama:

"¢ Auburn's Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, with a three-year multi-million dollar federal grant from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, will create the hardware and software to bring broadband access to thousands not yet connected.

"¢ Through its small grants program, UA has launched projects leading to additional research funding in excess of $5 million in science, medicine, education, library studies, engineering and the arts.

Cook and Pruitt are both natives of Alabama, each holding three degrees from their respective university. They say they are thankful for what their institutions have done for them as individuals and are honored to be in charge of programs that bring their universities' resources to bear on behalf of Alabama citizens.

Residents who benefit from Auburn's research get excited about their prospects for a better life resulting from that research, according to Cook. "The use of technology will be a growing part of our future here in Alabama," he said, and the broadband initiative will put Auburn at the center of that growth.

Pruitt added, "UA brings benefits to the state through initiatives that include automobile industry development, rural health research and delivery, and improving opportunities for minorities and women in business and in the mass media."

As an example, Christopher H. Spencer, director of community development for CCBP, points out that in the most recent 12-month period, minority- and women-owned businesses have received contracts worth $4 million, the highest for that group in the University's history. Another CCBP-sponsored project, the Multicultural Journalism Program, which will be 30 years old in 2013, has resulted in UA becoming a recognized supplier of minority talent in the mass media, according to Dr. Ed Mullins, CCBP's director of research and communication and co-founder of the journalism program.

The term both universities use for their institutions' outreach research is "engagement scholarship." Both Cook and Pruitt see the process as a two-way street, resulting in mutual benefits. While extending a helping hand to communities, enrolled students and university faculty benefit from the valuable experience in which classroom and laboratory theories are tested under real-world conditions.

"It's extremely important when you work with residents in the community to involve them in every aspect," Cook said. "That's their home; that's where they work and live and raise their children." AU seeks to create long-standing relationships and partnerships that continue the benefits after the original funding ends, he said.

Cook said the engagement process depends on a high level of trust among partners. "You have funded work, but you have to be committed if you're going to help solve a problem. We're here to see the project through, to survive beyond the application of university resources."

Though Auburn outreach began in agricultural and home environments, at AU today faculty and students also work with governments and citizens in Africa to solve problems in the capture, preservation and distribution of fish, as well as in education, health care and public policy.

"The emphasis on Africa is part of a larger initiative at Auburn to internationalize our students and faculty," said Cook, adding that more than 100 faculty members have ongoing research related to Africa. "We've spent an enormous amount of time on the continent of Africa."

Auburn's public service director, Dr. Ralph S. Foster Jr., has worked at Auburn for 23 years. The goal has always been to reach out to the community, he said, but that mission has changed over time. The primary change is that outreach is not viewed as separate "as part of the full scholarly performance." Pruitt and Cook agreed that changes in campus culture enable faculty to use their outreach research toward promotion and tenure.

The depth and scope of working in and with communities today is much stronger since the engagement model replaced the service model, Pruitt said. "Today scholars at research universities use internal initiatives to go after external resources to expand their studies and consequently add to society's body of knowledge. This process adds to our students' learning, our faculty's resources, and improvements in the communities with whom we form partnerships."

Dr. Angelicque Tucker Blackmon, one of four directors at UA's Center for Community-Based Partnerships (CCBP) and a former program director for the National Science Foundation, reiterated that the engagement model brings mutual benefits. While communities benefit from the special knowledge of the academy, "through partnerships, higher education also benefits from the indispensable experiential knowledge of the artisans, craftsmen, shopkeepers, farmers, parents, teachers, students and others with whom the faculty interact," she said.

Drs. Pauline and Phillip Johnson, UA's civil, construction and environmental engineering wife-husband team and winners of UA's top teaching award, are also two of the campuses busiest engagement scholars. Their work with a student group, Engineers without Borders, is an example the principle of reciprocity in engagement scholarship. The Johnsons and their students take their students on work trips not only to nearby Black Belt counties but also to the continents of Asia and South America, where they work on problems identified by local groups. These problems range from diagnosing and correcting unsafe drinking water to adding jobs by introducing eco-tourism. Such field experience enables their students to test techniques and principles "in ways that are impossible to duplicate in the classroom or laboratory alone," Pauline Johnson said.

The professors' enthusiasm for engagement rubs off on their students. The students in turn develop new projects. At UA they include 100 Lenses and Homegrown Alabama. 100 Lenses "” which emphasizes local history and leadership learned through research, photography and writing "” was founded by Elliot Knight when he was an undergraduate in interdisciplinary studies and continued after he became a master's and doctoral student. Homegrown Alabama, led by Andrea Mabry also when she was an undergraduate in journalism, continued throughout her master's in American Studies. Her project stresses environmental, health and business issues learned through growing, making and marketing locally produced, environmentally friendly fruits, vegetables and crafts.

With the reduction in state and federal funding for education, Cook and Pruitt believe engagement scholarship enriches the educational experience for students while providing needed resources for the campus and community.

Outreach and research enhance each other, Cook and Pruitt agreed, bringing valuable experiences through a combination of teaching, research and outreach.

Both schools will be well represented on the conference program, with many faculty and students making presentations in keeping with the conference theme and within the three tracks "” voice of the faculty and staff, voice of the student, and voice of the community partner. (For more information about the conference and how to register, go to

UA's Janet Griffith, assistant provost, and Ed Mullins, CCBP director of communication and research, are co-chairs of the National Conference Leadership Committee, which plans the annual NOSC conference.  "UA's emphasis on getting more proposals from community partners and students has certainly worked," said Griffith. "We received more proposals from these two groups than ever before."

Auburn's Dr. Chippewa Thomas, community agency counseling program coordinator in special education, rehabilitation and counseling, is also a member of the Leadership Committee.

Presentations will be in various formats "” panels, single speakers, or several speakers in a single session; poster symposia, in which several posters are introduced and discussed by presenters with audience participation; and single poster sessions, in which poster creators give informal explanations of their work as observers walk through the display area.

While the names of all speakers are not confirmed, the University has commitments from four headline speakers. They are Dr. James A. Joseph, director of the U.S.-Southern Africa Center for Leadership and Public Values at Duke University; Dr. Kevin Foster, an educational anthropologist and director of the Institute for Community, University, and School Partnerships at the University of Texas at Austin; Stephen Black, director of the Center for Ethics and Social Responsibilities at UA; and Dr. Kevin Kesckes, who teaches and provides leadership for the undergraduate civil leadership program at Portland State University.

A special panel of current and former university presidents will be one of the highlights. They will describe the nature and impact of their leading engagement projects. Confirmed panelists are Dr. Lee T. Todd Jr., former president of the University of Kentucky; Dr. William V. Muse, former Auburn University president; and Dr. David Wilson, president of Morgan State University and former vice president for University Outreach at Auburn. A fourth panelist is under consideration.

The most recent NOSC conferences were held on the campuses of five founding NOSC members: Michigan State University (2011); North Carolina State University (2010); the University of Georgia (2009); Penn State University (2008); and the University of Wisconsin-Madison (2007).

The editorial board of the Journal of Community Engagement and Scholarship (JCES), a leading engagement journal published at the University of Alabama, will hold a special meeting during the conference on Monday, October 1, from 4:30"“5:30 p.m. in the President's Room of the Hotel Capstone. Dr. Cassandra Simon, founding editor of the journal, will preside. Currently, there are 49 board members from 37 different universities and other organizations.

Simon will also lead a panel of editors in a discussion of needs and requirements for research manuscripts by engaged scholarship journals. Two such journals, UA's JCES and Georgia's Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement, are partially sponsored by NOSC. Other journals expected to have representatives at the roundtable are the Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning (Ann Arbor) and the International Journal for Service-Learning in Engineering (New York). NOSC President Dr. Hiram (Hi) Fitzgerald of Michigan State will join several other editors as part of the panel. Fitzgerald is editor of Infant Mental Health Journal.

The JCES 2012 editorial board includes Auburn's Jay Lamar, director of the Pebble Hill Center for the Arts & Humanities. UA members are Marsha H. Adams, Nursing; Mary Elizabeth Curtner-Smith, Human Environmental Sciences; Lisa M. Hooper, Education; Phillip W. Johnson, Engineering; James Leeper, Community and Rural Medicine; Josephine Pryce, Social Work; and John R. Wheat, Community and Rural Medicine.