Scene at CCSU: University-city collaborations examined at forum. Herald, 5-11-14

June 10, 2014

SCENE @ CCSU: University-city collaborations examined at forum

Sunday, May 11, 2014 10:46 PM EDT
Representatives from the Connecticut State Universities attended a forum, hosted by UConn, that examined how partnerships between universities and cities enhance citizens’ quality of life, solve municipal problems, and manage resources more efficiently. The keynote speaker, Nico Larco from the University of Oregon, described the Sustainable Cities Initiative, through which university students work in a chosen city on community-based projects. 

Now in its fifth year, SCI has become a national model for successful university-city collaborations, and Connecticut’s public universities are planning to launch a similar initiative.

The SCI model enables cities to receive assistance from the university on valued projects that have bogged down. The city may lack the funds or the personnel to get the project back on track. University support can help reactivate the project by generating new ideas and options. Students seldom complete a project in a semester, but they do bring a new vision, a fresh way of seeing the project that has helped several cities in Oregon understand how to move forward with civic enhancements.

The question of what to do with an abandoned industrial park provided a class of architecture students with an opportunity to envision how the site might be rededicated as a destination of choice for visitors. Another city, not unlike New Britain, with a rich history and many significant landmarks, lamented its failure to direct visitors to its local attractions. Addressing this problem led to a natural collaboration between students in a geography class who used their knowledge of GPS to map key locations throughout the city, and students in a design class who created a range of possible designs for signs to guide visitors. Students in an economics class conducted a cost-benefits analysis of street improvements. Students in journalism and communications classes developed a campaign to inform citizens about the risks of dumping waste in the local streams. Business students saved a city in Oregon $1 million with a plan for recycling industrial byproducts to other industries.
Cities in Oregon compete annually to be selected as the SCI site of the year. The university invites cities throughout the state to submit a list of possible projects. Each semester, about 30 university courses address 15 to 20 projects in the selected city. This represents approximately 60,000 hours of student involvement in the city’s projects. It is easy to understand why cities have embraced the model, because few cities have the resources to fund that level of service. The university charges cities a fee to cover the expense of managing the program, but no city has hesitated to make this investment.

CCSU, which offers over 100 majors and is the only Connecticut State University with an AACSB-accredited business school and programs in engineering, is well positioned to provide this kind of support to our community. In the coming year, CCSU’s Office of Community Engagement will explore with community leaders opportunities to link our faculty and students to municipal projects that would benefit from their expertise.