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February 18, 2016

CRC seeks support for faculty’s community engagement work

The University Senate community relations committee (CRC) has endorsed a report by organizers of last fall’s Academically-Based Community Engagement Faculty Idea Exchange (see Oct. 1, 2015, University Times) that calls for the creation of better infrastructure to recognize and support faculty community engagement work across the University.

“This is the committee that the Senate looks to, to continue the dialogue in some kind of way,” said CRC member Tracy Soska, a School of Social Work faculty member who co-authored the report.

The University’s community relations office has developed strong connections externally and the Office of PittServes has connected students with service opportunities. “How do we bridge that gap to make sure faculty work is involved in that?” he asked.

Kannu Sahni, director of community relations, said a recurring theme at the idea exchange was the need for a mechanism to help faculty connect with each other, as well as a means for providing long-term continuity in programs that serve community partners. “How do we organize going from semester to semester to maintain projects and maintain those relationships?”

Soska noted that community engagement aligns with the University’s strategic goal of building community strength in addition to fulfilling the University’s core mission of research, teaching and service.

He noted that if the University wants to apply in 2018 for the elective Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching classification for community engagement, it must announce its intention in 2017. The elective classification requires an extensive institutional self-study.

Soska noted that many students consider an institution’s level of engagement when selecting a college. He added that many research universities, particularly in urban areas, have the Carnegie community engagement designation. “It seems odd that we’re not on that list,” he said.

“It’s a self-assessment tool,” said John Wilds, assistant vice chancellor for community relations. “It forces you to look at all aspects of the University’s outreach into the community, and what you do internally to support that outreach.”

Soska said: “We need to do a better job of benchmarking. If we don’t measure our collective impact, we are losing an opportunity to show what we really do.”

He said the establishment of benchmarks “allows us to not only assess our progress in this kind of work, but also allows us to look institution-wide to say what is our collective impact in terms of this community work as well. It provides us a good template for doing it.”

The summary report is posted at

In other business:

• The committee discussed plans for improving pedestrian safety and awareness in Oakland. Sahni noted that a decision regarding bus rapid transit route alignment, expected this summer, would allow discussion on other Oakland transportation plans, including bicycle infrastructure and intersection improvements.

Safety issues will be included in CRC’s next report to Faculty Assembly. In addition, the committee will lend its support to the efforts of other groups such as Pitt’s Staff Association Council, Parking Transportation and Services, student organizations and the Oakland Transportation Management Association in raising awareness throughout the University community.

• The committee reviewed Oakland community activist Carlino Giampolo’s Feb. 9 comments to Pittsburgh City Council (posted at regarding the planned Campus Advantage residential development and the SkyVue development under construction on Forbes Avenue in Oakland.

Texas-based Campus Advantage is seeking city approval to enlarge its plan to build student apartments on a vacant laundromat site at 3407 Forbes Ave. The company now wants to expand development to the adjacent Arby’s restaurant site. A city planning commission briefing is set for Feb. 23 with a hearing to follow on March 8.

Administrators from Pitt’s Office of Community and Governmental Relations disagree with Giampolo’s premise that the development will adversely affect the neighborhood.

Sahni noted that the Oakland 2025 community master plan envisions higher-density development near the Fifth and Forbes business district as a way of easing pressure on the surrounding residential neighborhoods.

Wilds added that the University’s own housing strategy, which adds safer affordable student housing options to the market, puts pressure on slum landlords to improve or sell their properties. “Now, because of these private developments, it’s going to even accelerate that process,” Wilds said.

• Plans are underway for a spring day of service that will include 15-20 community service sites and on-campus opportunities, said Misti McKeehen, director of the Office of PittServes. The April 2 Be a Good Neighbor effort will be open to faculty, staff, students and alumni.

McKeehen reported that the Panther Leadership Council is partnering with the United Way to provide a book for every Pittsburgh city school student in pre-K to grade 3.

Donations will be collected through an Engage Pitt crowdfunding campaign and opportunities will be available for faculty, staff and students to deliver the materials, she said.

An Earth Day “clutter for a cause” swap event for the University community is set for April 22 in the William Pitt Union Assembly Room.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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