Scholarship of Engagement on road to tenure and promotion

Surveys show that faculty are well aware of the scholarship of discovery, followed by the scholarship of learning, but many are a bit puzzled about the third leg of the promotion and tenure stool — the scholarship of engagement.

Steve Abel, associate provost for engagement, says help is at hand. The Office of the Provost is offering campus-wide workshops and a two-semester professional development program.

Twelve assistant or associate professors this summer will be selected systemwide for the Scholarship of Engagement Fellows Program, which begins in the fall and offers three two-hour workshops, one-on-one mentorship and lots of group feedback. It comes with a $1,500 grant that fellows can use to work on a project of their choosing. This is the fourth year for the fellows program, which boasts 22 graduates, and feedback from past participants has been "staggeringly positive," Abel says. 

The numbers tell part of the story. In the three years before the fellows program, 17 faculty members were promoted and/or tenured on the basis of scholarship of engagement. Since that time, there have been 53.

"This is an exciting change," Abel says, "and we're glad our participants have contributed to it."

The scholarship of engagement is a relatively new term, but with a long history.

Rod Williams, an associate professor of forestry and natural resources, is a program graduate who now leads the fellows program with Abel. Williams says most faculty members understand what engagement is.

It's a two-way partnership with community, industry, government to address relevant, critical and emerging issues. Faculty members have the opportunity to bring their research and teaching interests to real-world problems. At the same time, insight gained from stakeholders is brought back to the classroom and supports research.

On the other hand, he says, many faculty have a too narrow view of what "scholarship" means in this context. "They think in terms only of peer-review. They need to broaden that definition."

Finally, the scholarship of engagement must demonstrate measurable impact.

"This can happen at multiple levels," Williams says, such as adoption of new practices, changes in attitude or behavior, new legislation passed, applications created, pilot projects completed, and patents and licenses obtained that are innovative or break new ground.

Applications to take part in Fellows program are available at

Applications are due by April 19, and recipients will be chosen in early May. The program will begin in August.

Those interested, however, can start now by reviewing an example of the scholarship of engagement. Here is the report on the engagement activity Williams conducted:

EXAMPLE: The Nature of Service Learning

There is an increased emphasis on courses that build strong interdisciplinary and communication skills as students prepare to enter the job market. In response to these needs, Dr. Williams, Forestry and Natural Resources, has developed an innovative undergraduate service-learning course (The Nature of Service Learning) that provides students with an opportunity to develop and implement environmental education and extension programs, while simultaneously providing an invaluable service to the community.

The course consists of three modules. The first module focuses on strategies to develop environmental education programs. In the second module, students use information from the first module to develop their own environmental education programs and practice program delivery in preparation for the third module.

During the final module of the course, students deliver the newly developed educational materials to K-5 youth within a small group setting. University students work with three classes consisting of 75 elementary youth for an hour a week over an eight-week period.

Dr. Williams works with students to publish their work and make it available online to teachers and schools across the country via the Nature of Teaching website.

The course has been taught three times, and to date 18 undergraduates have co-authored six peer-reviewed extension publications. These six publications have been downloaded more than 49,000 times (collectively) since being published by undergraduates. Students in this class have engaged more than 2,750 elementary students, 200 members of their families, and 2,100 people within the general public with 80 natural resource extension programs and five workshops.

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