January 07, 2015

SIU earns recognition for service and outreach

by Tom Woolf

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale today (Jan. 7) earned significant national recognition for its commitment to service and outreach. 

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching awarded SIU its prestigious 2015 Community Engagement Classification. SIU is now one of just 361 colleges and universities --among the more than 4,000 nationwide -- to earn the distinction, which is valid for 10 years. 

The foundation invited colleges and universities with an institutional focus on community engagement to apply for the classification, first offered in 2006 as part of an extensive restructuring of the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. Unlike the foundation’s other classifications that rely on national data -- SIU, for example, is classified as a high research activity institution by the foundation -- in this case, institutions voluntarily submitted materials describing the nature and extent of their engagement with the community. 

A team of advisers developed a “documentation framework” to help applicants and foundation reviewers assess the nature of the community engagement commitments. 

James S. Allen, associate provost for academic programs, led the nine-member steering committee that developed SIU’s 48-page application over the course of a year. He credits Mythili Rundblad, coordinator of the Center for Service-Learning and Volunteerism, and Roudy Hildreth, associate professor of political science and former co-director of the center, with proposing the university seek the Carnegie designation. Both also served on the steering committee. 

“This isn’t something we are saying about ourselves,” Allen said. “A panel of 12 experts from prominent institutions across the U.S. reviewed our materials and said we belong in this Carnegie classification. It validates what we have been saying since we were chartered in 1869 as a ‘normal’ school preparing teachers to serve this region. Teacher preparation is still very much part of who we are, but we have expanded that to a host of commitments that are part of our mission.” 

Rundblad has been involved with service and outreach throughout her nearly 16 years with the university. 

“If we can use the outstanding intellectual ability, time and skills of our students, faculty and staff to enhance the quality of education, health care, human services, arts and culture in Southern Illinois, the people of the region will know their well-being matters to us as an institution,” she said. 

The Carnegie Foundation classification includes two sets of activities: partnerships and outreach. The university’s hundreds of partnerships include local schools and governments, state and federal agencies and a wide variety of groups and organizations, such as the Women’s Center and the Boys and Girls Club of Carbondale. Allen noted that 18 different academic programs serve the Boys and Girls Club, and students in a number of degree programs, including social work, women’s studies, and criminology and criminal justice, assist at the Women’s Center. 

The School of Medicine’s many community partnerships are coordinated through its Office of Community Health and Service. The medical school partners with hospitals and clinics throughout the state to provide specialty and primary care. The school’s physicians and other health professionals also provide community health outreach and education programs such as disease prevention and screenings in partnership with community organizations. 

The numerous community service programs include a 30-year partnership to mentor and support a local elementary school; the Rural Health Initiative, which assists rural areas in increasing access to and infrastructure for health care services; and a thriving telehealth program that connects nearly 50 educational and clinical programs at more than 80 sites in 40 communities. The medical school’s clinical service maintains 87 outreach clinic sites in 37 Illinois counties. 

“We are strongly dedicated to forming and strengthening community partnerships to improve the health of the region,” said Dr. David Steward, the medical school’s associate dean of community health and service. 

Examples of the university’s many forms of outreach include cultural activities, sports, and programs offered by the Office of Economic and Regional Development to assist new businesses.

“The business start-up programs bring together a lot of grant activity, faculty expertise and student participation focused on start-ups just getting their feet on the ground, and that helps the local economy,” Allen said. 

He also said that though he has been with SIU for 23 years, he was “stunned” to learn the extent of the university’s partnerships and outreach. A few statistics from fiscal year 2013 help tell the story: 

  • SIU was involved in 578 initiatives with 3,160 community partners, including clubs, nursing homes, schools, churches, businesses, museums, clinics and municipal and county agencies.
  • 2,062 faculty members participated in those initiatives.
  • 8,471 students contributed 289,160 hours of service.
  • 237,283 residents in central and Southern Illinois benefited from the initiatives.

The university’s application for the community engagement designation is available on the Center for Service-Learning and Volunteerism’s website.