December 01, 2004

Center for Rural Schools and Communities College looks to expand research, outreach

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale's College of Education and Human Services hopes to expand research and outreach programs to the region's schools and community agencies.

The Center for Rural Schools and Communities will also enhance the visibility of the work being done within the college, and improve faculty recruitment opportunities, according to Dean R. Keith Hillkirk.

Outreach to schools and community agencies is a hallmark for the college. An outreach inventory conducted last spring shows the college annually delivers services to 287,000 public school students and community members.

"We have an obligation really to be doing everything that we can to improve the quality of public school teaching and learning, teacher preparation and ongoing professional development for teachers," Hillkirk said.

"This helps to build upon that and strengthen it. That is really the focus," he said.

In addition to expanding existing research and outreach programs, another vital component of the center will be a focus on increasing the college's external funding level. In light of the state's budget difficulties, "this is an opportunity for the college to generate resources to support faculty and students," Hillkirk said.

Implementation of the proposal could begin next semester. The SIUC Graduate Council will consider the proposal on Thursday, Dec. 2. Its recommendation will then go to Provost and Vice Chancellor John M. Dunn, Chancellor Walter V. Wendler, and SIU President James E. Walker’s office, respectively.

The center's proposed annual budget of $197,000 in each of the first four years will include a combination of reallocated funds and external grants and contracts, and does not require new state funding, Hillkirk said. Center staff would include a director, likely chosen from an internal search in the college, a grant writer, two graduate assistants and support staff.

The center would serve as a catalyst for many existing programs that focus on improving the quality of public school teaching; providing academic support for at-risk students; and provide training and support for at-risk children and families, Hillkirk said.

In addition, there will be increased opportunities for undergraduate and graduate student internships and service delivery, and research on different models for helping struggling students. A research and development center that can provide support for individual projects will enhance faculty recruiting, Hillkirk added.

Five existing programs, including the Southern Illinois Teaching Quality Collaborative, a partnership between the School of Social Work and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, and the Saluki Kids Academy, now account for more than $3.5 million in external funding from federal, state and private sources. The center will "significantly increase" the capability to seek and grow external funding, Hillkirk said.

The grant writer will help disseminate opportunities for funding, and bring together teams of faculty to develop proposals and conduct research, Hillkirk said.

The center will relate to all three components of the University's mission: research, teaching and service, Hillkirk said.

"I'm excited about this because I think this is going to help us in a number of ways," he said. "It's going to help us strengthen our research mission; it's going to help us in terms of supporting faculty, and graduate and undergraduate students. It's going to help us to increase the visibility of the work we are doing to connect with schools and with community service agencies."

Leading in research, scholarship and creative activities, offering progressive graduate education and serving others are among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019.