It’s hard to believe that it has been four months since I became the founding Director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Community Engagement Center (CEC) in the Hill District. I am honored to have the opportunity to continue my life’s work in a community that I have served for nearly two decades and a place that I now call home. Since starting, I have been primarily focused on two objectives: (1) building new community-university relationships while deepening existing ones and (2) establishing a foundational framework for how faculty, staff, and students will engage respectfully and effectively with members of the Hill District. Through the CEC, I ultimately hope to foster relationships between University programs and community collaborators that will positively affect the quality of life for current and future generations to come. And while we have had some success this year partnering within the community to provide tremendous experiences for youth and adults alike, we have to be mindful of the work still to be done to continue becoming a better community partner.
Here is a highlight of our successes so far:
–In collaboration with the Office of Economic Partnerships, the School of Engineering and Pitt’s Bio Outreach, over 100 Students from Weil Pre-K – 5 and Miller Pre-K – 5 had the opportunity to visit NASA Destination Station, a mobile unit that introduces visitors to life on a space shuttle. The Carnegie Science Center and Pittsburgh Orchestra offered other STEAM related activities providing a chance for students to build model rocket-ships and learn the science behind various musical instruments.
–Partnering with the Center for African American Poetry and Poetics, we brought U.S. Poet Laureate, Tracy K. Smith, to the Hill District Branch of the Carnegie Library. She shared her work, spent time speaking with aspiring writers, and lead us through an engaging discussion.
–The School for Computing and Information hosted students from Pittsburgh Milliones University Prep, who spent a day on campus to experience introductions to computer science and STEM activities.
–In partnership with the University of Pittsburgh Center for Urban Education, the Hill District Education Council, and the Equity Advisory Panel, we had a community conversation with Dr. Vanessa Siddle-Walker, Professor of African American and Educational Studies at Emory College, to discuss specific strategies to achieve educational equity in African American history that provide useful maps for the Hill District and other local communities today.
Moving forward, I think it is critical that even while we construct bridges connecting the university’s contributions with the community’s agendas, we reflect on the lessons provided by our historical, and sometimes difficult, relationship. Collectively, those who are leading the CEC initiative with me are committed to Pitt being a stronger, more responsive partner. To that end, my colleagues and I have sat with dozens of residents and stakeholders over the past four months to gather invaluable insight and feedback. We partnered with students from the School of Social Work to interview residents and community leaders to develop best practices for community-university interactions and to imagine forthcoming opportunities. It is essential that we continue to work together to guide Pitt’s commitments in the Hill District, and I look forward to engaging with many more residents, stakeholders, and community groups in the coming months.
Additionally, I would like to thank those who are tasked with guiding how the CEC in the Hill District can best benefit local partners and community members–those who work with me on the Advisory Council. Pitt’s commitment in the Hill District is led by this network of community leaders and residents who play an invaluable role in ensuring that the hearts and minds of the community are at the forefront of our engagement. I would like to express how extremely grateful I am for the time, guidance, input and expertise of my Advisory Council members. Since my hire, six new members have been added, each with strong ties to the community. I look forward to introducing the Advisory Council members, and our collective mission and vision, to the broader community in the coming year.
Reflecting on the past few months, I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish so far and I am looking forward to building on this success! Please feel free to stop by my temporary office at the Bedford Hope Center and chat or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a time to meet!
I look forward to continuing to build and work with you all to strengthen our community. I truly wish you a Happy Holiday and fruitful New Year!