By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
More than two years ago, when the new chancellor came to town, one of his stated missions was making sure Southern Illinois University Edwardsville shared more resources with the surrounding community.
Do better by the community, reasoned Randy Pembrook, and you’ll do more for the students.
The man who chaired the chancellor search committee, Gireesh Gupchup, who was then-dean of the School of Pharmacy, spent a lot of time with Pembrook and frequently heard the message about community inclusion. Gupchup didn’t know it at the time, but events were about to create an avenue for him to become one of the chief stewards of the chancellor’s concept.
Things began to take shape last year, after Gupchup asked to step down as dean of the pharmacy school to spend more time with family. His plan was to go back to teaching, at the very least.
Pembrook had something more in mind.
“Randy said, ‘If you step down, you can’t just do nothing’,” Gupchup recalls. The men put their heads together and a natural idea developed to take advantage of Gupchup’s community capabilities. Gupchup, who arrived at the school in 2010, has developed a host of contacts outside the university while working to place pharmacy students in community settings.
Eager to help Pembrook, Gupchup last year was named director of University-Community Initiatives. He’s now part of a group that is reaching into the community at an unprecedented level.
Working closely with him are two others who are key to the overall goals: Mary Ettling, associate director of the Office of Educational Outreach; and Connie Frey Spurlock, director of the university’s Successful Communities Collaborative, which is supported by the Office of Educational Outreach.
The Collaborative is a relatively new, cross-disciplinary program that supports one-year partnerships between the university and communities in Illinois to work on local issues based on community-identified needs.
The Collaborative’s mission is to connect the communities with the students and faculty of SIUE. Essentially, a town presents the university with an issue, and the students, through their coursework, address the problem.
The Collaborative uses the framework of a program started at the University of Oregon.
During a pilot phase that began in 2017, the Collaborative worked with the cities of Highland and Godfrey. Later, it began working with Alton on a series of projects. Gupchup joined the efforts about that time.
Frey Spurlock matches the projects with particular academic programs, and courses are developed. So far, they involve:
- Development of a mobile app by Community and Information Systems Management students, focusing on the uniqueness of Alton. The app would highlight small businesses and retail offerings and would be intended to draw visitors, clients, and consumers. The application would be maintained by the city of Alton.
- Identification of existing and perceived barriers to business development in Alton: Sociology students will conduct the community engagement project as part of the Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities program.
- Engineering a successful community, to enhance the safety and accessibility of Alton’s streets and improve the water quality of waterways. Engineering students will generate an alternative intersection design, produce curb ramp designs, and develop a stormwater management plan, in consultation with engineers at Sheppard, Morgan & Schwaab Inc.
- Evaluation of best practices for business incubation/small business start-up initiatives in Alton, done by business management students.
- Developing a marketing plan for Alton’s future. Student teams produced marketing communication briefs that included target audience information, situation analysis, Alton’s positioning in the market, and communication strategies.
- Bringing a robust recycling program to Godfrey, which lacks an effective process for responsible disposal of recyclable materials. Students assessed ongoing recycling efforts, identified areas for improvement, and implemented a community-based and social media outreach plan to address those areas.
- Opioid abuse in Highland: improving community engagement, awareness, and education. Students in the School of Nursing assessed the current availability of resources, identified where resources were duplicated or needed, and helped develop a middle and high school curriculum.
The university is now talking to the city of Edwardsville about projects in that community and expects more communities to get involved as the word continues to spread.
One of the more unusual collaborative activities occurred Saturday, March 23, when two downtown blocks in Alton were transformed to demonstrate how two-way bicycle traffic would function.
The Collaborative played host to the “pop-up” event on East Broadway in collaboration with Alton’s proposed Pedestrian and Bicycle Plan, according to Frey Spurlock, who is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology.
SIUE students temporarily transformed the streets by installing design features such as temporary paint, tape, cones and more.
The pop-up event was designed to provide shoppers, business owners and other community members “a chance to experience and influence proposed street-level modifications, before deciding to support or oppose those modifications,” said Frey Spurlock.
Participants were invited to share feedback at an “art hive” set up in the area by SIUE’s art therapy counseling program.
“Pop-ups and art hives are creative and effective ways to increase public participation in community-level decision-making processes,” said Frey Spurlock. “They are more interactive than traditional formats, such as community meetings and media announcements. The expected outcome of the pop-up is that upon experiencing the spaces with fewer or no vehicles, and more pedestrians and bicyclists, the community is more apt to embrace the idea.”
The project was made possible by a $4,000 grant awarded by the JPB Foundation.
Gupchup said the Collaborative process begins with the university approaching elected officials with a call for “proposals and ideas” late in the year. That call is followed up by visits to mayors and other leaders to refine ideas and perhaps create new ones.
All the collaborations center around a memorandum of understanding between the university and each community. The only cost to the cities is the operational costs of producing a particular report, Gupchup said.
The process of matching university student and class resources to the community’s need then follows.
“This is what education should be about. Students get involved in the community, the community gets involved in the university — this is what universities are supposed to do. You talk about ivory towers, this completely breaks that down,” Gupchup said.
Gupchup, who remains a professor in the School of Pharmacy, said his role is still being refined but basically is set up to facilitate partnerships between the university academic units and businesses and organizations in the area. Essentially, he is working to spread the word on what’s available, which meshes well with Ettling and the Office of Educational Outreach, which works on building corporate partnerships and many activities related to workforce development.