Catalysts for Community Resilience – Institutions of Higher Education

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JohnPlodinec“We all want our communities to be more resilient – better able to respond to and recover from crises.  But that means “change,” and change requires investment – new money, new people, and new ideas.  In times of straitened civic circumstances, where can our communities go for the needed investments?”

An article by Firestorm Expert Council Member Dr. John Plodinec, Associate Director for Resilience Technologies, Community and Regional Resilience Institute (CARRI)

Recently, the Department of Homeland Security asked CARRI to look at the impacts of institutions of higher education (IHEs) on the resilience of their local communities. In our just-completed report (College Campuses – Catalysts for Community Resilience), we found that many of the nation’s 4,495 IHEs are in fact reaching out to their local communities and helping to make the needed investments.  

Campus-as-catalyst-289x300It is almost a truism that knowledge is the capital and currency of America’s two- and four-year IHEs.  However, IHEs also have financial resources and human capital that they can invest in their local communities.  Many IHEs, acting as “conscious capitalists,” have recognized that their institutions benefit when the IHE’s local community is vital and resilient.  Just as a diamond set in gold is more attractive than one set in brass, the institution is more attractive to prospective students and their parents, to sought-after faculty, and to donors when set in a vibrant, flourishing community.  Further, in times of crisis, a strong and resilient community can help the institution weather the storm and recover more quickly than the IHE could on its own. In effect, the IHE can become the catalyst for broadly strengthening the resilience of its community and region in a variety of ways (see the figure – right).

To cite just a few examples from the report:

Community preparedness:  Schools as disparate as Texas A&M – the mega-versity in rural Texas, and the Navajo Technical University – a small school in a sparsely populated area of New Mexico each are having a major impact on the preparedness of their communities.  TAMU and local agencies regularly work and exercise their capabilities together.  TAMU also hosts a monthly luncheon where the school and the local communities discuss new and continuing projects and the impacts they may have on both the school and the communities.  NTU is actively working with its local council and the tribal government to establish and maintain CERT teams that will make both the school and the local communities better able to respond to crises.

Community capital improvements:  Many IHEs are teaming with their local communities to help leverage funding to redevelopment and beautify neighborhoods.  Drexel University actively participates in and helps to guide the city of Philadelphia’s University City initiative.  The University of Notre Dame has partnered with the city of South Bend in redeveloping one of the city’s most blighted neighborhoods.  This investment by the University has been leveraged to provide over $600 M in total funding for the project and resulted in creation of almost 800 new jobs.  The University of Scranton has committed over $3 M to the city’s Mulberry Street beautification project, allowing the city to leverage resources to attract both private and federal grant funding.

Economic growth:  Many IHEs have recognized the importance of helping the local economy to grow.  TAMU is helping to transform Brazos County from ranches and farms to Research Valley.  In the last five years, a health sciences cluster has begun to grow around the University that is beginning to rival the historically strong engineering and agriculture clusters on campus.  In the Rust Belt, the University of Notre Dame created a fund to provide seed capital for new businesses to be created by students and faculty, resulting in new businesses employing more than 1300 in the region. Also in the Rust Belt, the University of Scranton‘s Small Business Development Center assisted 115 small businesses in the last year helping the region reinvent itself.

Social services:  The University of San Francisco, with its Jesuit tradition of service and learning, is playing a large role in the city.  About 7,800 USF students completed an estimated 323,000 community service hours during the 2011-12 academic year.  They worked with over 250 organizations in the area ranging from the San Francisco Unified School District and San Francisco VA Medical Center to Habitat for Humanity.  They served about 400,000 meals, tutored and/or mentored about 5,500 San Francisco school children, provided 3,000 health screenings to the needy, helped to build three community gardens, and provided free and reduced-cost legal services to homeowners facing foreclosure.  In recognition of its community service efforts, the University was also named to the Corporation for National and Community Service’s (CNCS) President’s Community Service Honor Roll with Distinction.  It is one of only twelve IHEs to have reached this level of recognition since the Honor Roll program began in 2006.

Social justice:  Tiny Tougaloo College, near Jackson, MS, has long been known for its efforts to champion the cause of equal rights for African-Americans in the South.  That effort has morphed into a greater focus on strengthening the weaker members of the local community.  Through its Owens Health and Wellness Center, the college has partnered with key community stakeholders, government agencies and advocacy groups to host activities such as Ice Cream Sunday, the Cut It Out HIV/AIDS Awareness Initiative, the Barbershop Study Break, the Delta Leadership Workshop Series, and the Jackson Youth Leadership Rally.

These exemplify just a few of the ways our nation’s institutions of higher education are investing in their local communities and making them more resilient.  For more information and other examples, see the final report which will soon be posted to the CARRI website.  In the meantime, you can contact us to get a pre-publication copy.

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