Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Role of Engaged Universities

During the June 2008 National Conference on Volunterism I heard former President Jimmy Carter say "We have some of the best institutions of higher education in the world. Yet many of them are surrounded by slums."

His purpose, and the purpose of The Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Partnership Foundation (JRCPF), is to encourage the growth of campus-community partnerships and student-led community service learning. You can read more about the role of engaged universities in these T/MC links.

I've been adding new maps to our library over the past few weeks. This one shows universities in Chicago. It's aim is to help students, faculty and alumni from each university create tutor/mentor support groups that adopt the mission and strategy of the Tutor/Mentor Connection in their own efforts to help volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs grow in the areas around the college or university.

Thus, if you're at Northwestern, or Loyola, you could have a great impact on the growth of programs in the North part of Chicago and in Evanston. While if you're at the University of Chicago, you could have an impact in helping tutor/mentor programs grow throughout the South Side where our maps show so much poverty and too few tutor/mentor programs.

If you're at Dominican University in Oak Park, you could be supporting programs in Austin and on the West side of Chicago. If you're at the University of Illinois at Chicago, you could also be supporting the entire West side. And, if you're a downtown campus, with students and alumni living in all parts of the region, you could use these maps, to develop engagement strategies throughout the region, using the expressways as routes to connect with programs in different neighborhoods.

As you look at these maps, use the Zip Code Map and Chicago Programs Links, to find contact information for organizations that provide various forms of volunteer-based tutoring and/or mentoring. You can narrow your search by type of program and age group served by using the Program Locator database.

You'll find that some programs are very well organized. Some are small, and may not be so well organized. Some places just offer homework help. Some offer a rich learning environment and connect youth to a wide network of adults and opportunities.

However, the goal is not to pick and choose between different levels of program quality. It's to help develop great volunteer-based tutoring/mentoring and extended learning programs in every zip code with high poverty. That may mean helping a small program grow. It also means helping the best programs continue to sustain their work.

It means we need to build a distribution of manpower, talent, operating dollars and technology into every poverty neighborhood, not just a few with high profile leaders.

Our aim is to share information so that teams in universities begin to develop their own ideal of what mix of services and what type of program structure is best, and that they begin to take on a responsibility for helping such programs grow in the area around the university, with a goal that elementary school kids they work with today can be college freshmen in 6 to 12 years, and college alumni who support the university, and its neighborhood tutor/mentor programs, 15 to 20 years from now.

The result of such leadership can be that instead of wealthy alumni donating $20 million for research at an area university, these same alumni might begin to divide that money into annual grants of $40,000 to $80,000 that would provide operating support to volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs in the area around the university, using the web site of the organization, and the recommendations of the university, to determine which groups to support. It also means that thousands other donors will contribute their own time, talent and dollars to support the on-going efforts of programs in different parts of the city and suburbs.

That's a long term vision. It requires many leaders in many organizations and communities. This is why we think some of this leadership should be anchored in universities who have long term commitments to their neighborhoods and the city of Chicago. Through these universities we can engage other teams of volunteers, from hospitals, businesses, civic and social organizations. (I'll write about the role of hospitals, faith groups and businesses in a different article.)

This is not something you can wait for the other college or university to take ownership of. It's a form of leadership and engagement that a student, alumni, professor or administrator can launch from their own blog or web site.

We've even created a template of a strategic plan that you might use to start your thinking. We've created a Business School Connection to show how students from the business schools of our major universities could use the skills they are learning to mobilize volunteers and donors for area tutor/mentor programs.

As you read the paper this week about another shooting in Chicago, or about some leader promising new hope for America, I hope you'll look in the mirror and say, "Solutions to America's problems start with me."

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