Daniel Hall, far right, UofL’s vice president for community relations, and Ralph Fitzpatrick, far left, associate vice president of community engagement, led a group of educators from the University of West Florida on a site visit to discuss the Signature Partnership Initiative.

On a cold February day, while their colleagues in Pensacola, Florida, enjoyed fair skies and temperatures in the 70s, a group of University of West Florida administrators and faculty members were mining for gold in Louisville.

The six UWF educators spent Feb. 8 visiting the University of Louisville for an in-depth look at some of our successful Signature Partnership Initiative programs. The presentations were designed to show them how they can expand their already impressive community engagement portfolio.

“UofL is recognized across the higher education sector as a leader in community engagement,” said William R. Crawley, dean of the UWF College of Education and Professional Studies, who headed the group. “As a leader working to on-board and organize community engagement at my prior institution, I turned to the UofL community engagement office and found gold. The UofL community has gathered its passions to work with community to impact shared challenges and evolved a deep understanding of how to build meaningful and long-lasting partnerships.”

Crawley was joined by his colleagues Diane Scott, associate dean of the College of Education and Professional Studies; Richard Hough, criminal justice instructor; Carla Thompson, professor in the Department of Research and Advanced Studies; Guofang Wan, chair of the Department of Teacher Education and Educational Leadership; and Joseph Herzog, associate professor of social work. The group spent the day in sessions with UofL deans and faculty members from several schools such as law, public health, social work and education, as well as with leaders of several Signature Partnership Initiative groups and West Louisville residents.

It’s a special year for the Signature Partnership Initiative, which is headquartered in the Office of Community Engagement, as 2017 marks 10 years of serving the community of West Louisville, an underserved area of the city that stretches from Ninth Street west to the Ohio River and south to Algonquin Parkway.

In the 2015-2016 academic year, there were 111 university community partnerships in West Louisville through the initiative. Thousands of UofL students and hundreds of faculty and staff have been involved. The partnership works closely with community residents, Jefferson County Public Schools, Louisville Metro Government, Metro United Way, the Urban League, faith-based organizations and many others.

“I have kept a watchful eye on the UofL’s Signature Partnership Initiative over the last many years, and the results have been impressive,” Crawley said. “Not only has the university and community teamed to innovatively address long-standing social challenges, Signature Partnership efforts have resulted in the relationships that will position teams to more proactively meet emerging issues long into the future.”

Dan Hall, UofL vice president of community relations, gestures while speaking Feb. 8 to a group from the University of West Florida. Seated are, l to r, Richard Hough, UWF criminal justice instructor; Patrick Smith, of UofL’s Office of Community Engagement; and William R. Crawley, dean of the UWF College of Education and Professional Studies.

During the group’s visit, Monica Wendel, associate dean for public health practice in the School of Public Health and Information Sciences, said during a morning session in Grawemeyer Hall that SPHIS has a moral obligation to be a community resource. She emphasized the importance of being respectful and “doing what the community needs, not what we think they need.”

Harrie Buecker, the liaison for district and school partnerships in the College of Education and Human Development, discussed in detail the college’s close relationship with J.B. Atkinson School, where UofL faculty and students work inside the school every day. The school, like other Signature Partnership Initiative schools, was chosen because of its high free/reduced lunch population and low test scores.

“If we can’t do something there, who can?” Buecker said.

David Simpson, chair of UofL’s Urban and Public Affairs department, told the group that community engagement is an essential part of higher education.

“Community engagement is a priority and it has to be in order to survive,” said Simpson, who is also the chair of the university’s Sustainability Council.

Bonnie Cole, a West Louisville resident who is co-chair of the Signature Partnership Initiative’s Resident Advisory Council, said the visitors asked how she, as a community resident, felt about the initiative.

“I said the reason I like it is because it’s actually in the community and you can see what they are doing in the community,” Cole said. “I think they’re giving them (community residents) hope.”

She added that after 10 years of Signature Partnership programs in West Louisville, UofL has proven its commitment is unmatched. “They are bringing services into the community that we wouldn’t have,” she said.

West Florida is the fourth higher education institution in the past decade to make a site visit to UofL to learn more about the SPI and community engagement. The others were the University of Notre Dame, Kennesaw State University and Grand Valley State University.

The day’s activities were led by Daniel Hall, UofL’s vice president for community relations, and Ralph Fitzpatrick, associate vice president of community engagement.

Click here for a photo gallery of the visit.