A Message from Jay
As February comes to a close, please join me in thanking Renee Thomas, director of the Black Cultural Center, for her leadership in sponsoring a rich set of creative and meaningful activities throughout Black History Month. If you haven’t been to the BCC to see the 50-year retrospective timeline, I encourage you to stop by.
I’d also like to offer a belated thanks to Renee and Patrick Wolfe, dean of the College of Science, for their outstanding work in January as co-chairs of the events honoring the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And extra special appreciation goes to the 237 Boilermakers who volunteered on the Day of Service (in 14-degree weather!) giving their time and energy to help our neighbors in Greater Lafayette, and helping us foster even closer relationships with our community.
Expanding on this point, faculty, staff, and students are building strong ties with communities throughout Indiana and around the world through our engagement scholarship and programs — the third leg of our tripartite land-grant mission of learning, discovery, and engagement. I want to focus my column this month on engagement at Purdue, in part because I believe it is the area of our land-grant mission that is truly distinguishing.
Most of you are familiar with the 1862 Morrill Act, which established land-grant universities and our first mission: teaching and learning. In 1887, the Hatch Act funded agricultural experiment stations at land-grant universities, emphasizing the importance of research to support a rapidly growing society — what we now call “purpose-driven” or “user-inspired” research — and our second land-grant mission.
Our third mission, engagement, was formally set in motion with the 1914 Smith-Lever Act. This piece of legislation created an infrastructure — the Extension system — through which evidence-based science, modern technologies and practical information could be shared with communities throughout the nation. For more than 100 years, Purdue Extension offices in every one of Indiana’s 92 counties have impacted farmers, families, and communities through programs that improve crop management, enhance farm safety, support health and wellness, and inspire young people, among many other important areas. My thanks to Jason Henderson, director of Purdue Extension, and his entire team in West Lafayette and around the state for their dedication to the citizens of Indiana.
While engagement may have started with an agriculture/rural focus, this idea has been broadened to encompass our entire University — and the scholarship of engagement has taken its place alongside the scholarship of learning and the scholarship of discovery. Nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Ernest Boyer reimagined university-community relationships and defined the “scholarship of engagement” as a two-way dynamic between theory and practice, where each would inform the other. (Boyer, “Scholarship Reconsidered,” 1990.)
I saw this reciprocity firsthand because I carried an engagement appointment for virtually the entire time I was in the Department of Agricultural Economics. My work was heavily focused on the food and agribusiness industry and my engagement work brought great relevance to my teaching and research program — working with industry professionals on a regular basis made me a better teacher and researcher.
Today, we have many outstanding examples of high-impact engagement programs as our faculty, staff, and students from across the University tackle some of the toughest challenges facing our communities — in Indiana and literally around the world.
The abuse of opioids is one of our nation’s most challenging public health issues. To confront this devastating crisis, Purdue’s Regenstrief Center for Healthcare Engineering has received a grant of $1.1 million from the U.S. Office of Minority Health to provide three years of guidance and technical support to Fayette County where, at more than triple the state’s average, residents are suffering one of the highest annual opioid death rates in Indiana. This vitally important program is formed around a core of collaborators including Purdue Healthcare Advisors, the Center on Poverty and Health Inequities, the Center for Medication Safety Advancement, and the Purdue Agile Strategy Lab, as well as many local community organizations.
In addition, our students are taking on the opioid crisis through a mobile health initiative called BoilerWoRx. Working through Purdue Extension, the program will build awareness, provide prevention education and offer health services. Three faculty and 20 student volunteers from the colleges of Pharmacy, Engineering, and Health and Human Sciences will gain valuable public health experience as they travel through Indiana’s counties. You can read more about the benefits to Indiana and our students in an article in this newsletter.
Our faculty and staff also are working closely with high school teachers and students to help them engage with active and innovative STEM curricula. More than 30 high schools from around Indiana are taking on graphic design, writing, marketing, business management, community outreach, and fundraising — all to support their team’s entry in the evGrandPrix. Purdue’s electric vehicle program is gaining traction in the state as our faculty and staff help high school students apply real-world skills in a motorsports setting. Students are responsible for every aspect of the project from finding sponsors to designing and building their own electric go-karts. Textbook topics — from kinematics to momentum to electricity — come to life as students see their work run on a real racetrack: the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Our service-learning program benefits students (and faculty and staff) through hands-on engagement with community partners. The Office of Engagement will support 203 programs this year (AY 2018-19), and 105 community partners will feel the positive impacts of these efforts. Our service-learning grants and associated programs are essential to our land-grant mission and earn Purdue indicators of distinction such as the Carnegie Foundation's Elective Classification for Community Engagement.
We see our engagement mission at work in so many more ways: in the entrepreneurship and commercialization activities that put Purdue discoveries into the hands that can use them; in new online educational offerings that connect us to nontraditional audiences; in global projects where Purdue experts partner with local stakeholders to develop important technical and educational capacity .... There are so many more programs I could describe, but I’ll stop here.
I hope I’ve inspired you to take a close look at the work you do to see if there might be opportunities to add an engagement component you haven’t yet realized. A guide from the Office of Engagement will be coming soon to help you explore possibilities here. Many thanks to Steve Abel, associate provost for engagement, and his team for this excellent resource.
Ernest Boyer summarized the scholarship of engagement as “… creating a special climate in which the academic and civic cultures communicate more continuously and more creatively with each other, helping to enlarge … the universe of human discourse and enriching the quality of life for all of us.” (Boyer, “Scholarship of Engagement,” 1996.)
I believe the scholarship of engagement can make our teaching and research missions more relevant, more impactful and more successful. I look forward to working with you to expand our commitment to engagement, enlarging our impact in our state and around the world and honoring our land-grant roots for the next 150 years.
All the best,