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MSU conference promotes community-university partnerships

October 2, 2011

Hundreds of researchers and scholars from across the world flooded into Kellogg Center this past weekend, calling for closer ties between university administrators, students and communities during the first two days of a national education conference hosted by MSU.

More than 500 researchers are expected on campus for the four-day National Outreach Scholarship Conference, or NOSC, which is being held at MSU for the first time in its 12-year history.

The conference concludes Tuesday.

Major presentations during the conference’s first two days focused on providing practical solutions to local, regional and global problems through partnerships between higher education institutions and communities.

MSU Associate Provost for University Outreach and Engagement and NOSC President Hiram Fitzgerald cited the College of Education’s partnership with Detroit Public Schools and the work of university researchers fighting malaria in Africa as prime examples of community outreach efforts through the university.

“The conference is about engaged scholarship, co-creating solutions with people in the community,” Fitzgerald said.

“We really can make transformative changes (through community partnerships).”

Along with those presentations, conference attendees also participated in sessions related to the development of courses focused on improving student outreach.

Nicole Springer, assistant director for the MSU Center for Civic Learning and Service Engagement, presented research showing possible ways to involve students outside the classroom, focusing on MSU’s in-classroom teacher education program as an example.

Based on a 35-item survey of students involved with outreach programs, MSU researchers found students were more receptive to continued community involvement when working in group settings, such as Alternative Spring Break or classroom experiences.

“Before we would work with students one-on-one,” she said. “With group orientations … we’re able to get groups (out into the community) quicker.”

International relations senior Liz Starke said those research results agree with her own personal experiences with MSU’s Alternative Spring Break program.

Starke serves as the organization’s program coordinator.

“Being with a group and having reflection sessions really allows you to kind of synthesize what you’re feeling,” she said.

“It makes it easier to relate it back to your community.”

The work of other MSU professionals also was on display at the conference.

Gretchen Birbeck, an associate professor and the director of MSU’s International Neurologic and Psychiatric Epidemiology Program, was announced a regional winner of the Outreach Scholarship Award, a $5,000 prize she received for her work studying epilepsy in Zambia.

Birbeck and three other regional winners — including Ken Tamminga, a professor at Penn State University — are in the running for the C. Peter Magrath University Community Engagement Award, a $20,000 prize slated to be presented in November in San Francisco.

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