Community engagement brings people together for a common goal.
Fittingly, that's also what Central Michigan University's new President's Awards for Excellence in Community Engagement are meant to do: rally CMU faculty, staff and students around making campus-community connections.
President Bob Davies presented the awards Wednesday to CMU faculty member Shelly Hinck; staff member Thomas Rohrer; student Katelyn Massaria; and community partner Jennifer Verleger, representing Mount Pleasant Public Schools. Verleger is superintendent of the school district.
Davies told the awards ceremony attendees that community partnerships rank among CMU's highest goals.
"When we developed CMU's current strategic plan, Advancing Excellence, we prioritized community engagement," he said. "The third imperative is 'strengthening partnerships.' We set bold goals."
The focus appears to be paying off: The four community engagement awards drew more than 50 nominations, including a faculty member providing nutrition education to the community, staff members working with Special Olympics Michigan, and physical therapy students running exercise programs for community members with Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis.
"These projects reflect the values, mission and vision of CMU," said graduate student Kriti Gopal, a member of the award selection committee.
Fellow committee member and educational leadership faculty member Ethan Kolek said students benefit from these community ties.
"When community engagement is done well, students can develop strong civic-mindedness and learn ways to analyze and solve public problems," he said.
The winners and their community engagement efforts:
Shelly Hinck, Faculty Excellence in Community Engagement
Partner with area correctional facilities on inmate communication skills
"I encourage students in my courses to think more critically about our current correctional attitudes and policies. I believe that experiencing direct interaction with those who are incarcerated, talking about those experiences and developing reflective assignments makes transformative learning possible." — Shelly Hinck, communication and dramatic arts faculty member
An advocate for the rights of people who are incarcerated, Hinck partners with three area correctional facilities and one in Kansas to enable students to work directly with inmates on communication skills.
Hinck also developed and leads a service learning class where students work with inmates at the Saginaw Correctional Facility for a semester and learn about root issues related to incarceration.
Thomas Rohrer, Staff Excellence in Community Engagement
Partner with Union Township and Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort on energy savings
"These efforts transformed students into active, engaged citizens who helped build sustainable projects in the community surrounding their university and within it. They developed useful skills for solving some of the most pressing issues of their generation and beyond." — Thomas Rohrer, director of CMU's Great Lakes Institute for Sustainable Systems
Rohrer researched and implemented energy savings systems in Union Township (surrounding Mount Pleasant) and at the Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort.
He also worked with a student on a master's thesis to develop a plan for nonmotorized transportation that the city of Mount Pleasant implemented.
Katelyn Massaria, Student Excellence in Community Engagement
Partner with Community Cancer Services of Isabella County for patient assistance
"It's humbling to hear the stories of those you helped or worked with. Each experience brought me a new story to share and opened my eyes to the value everyone brings to the table." — Katelyn Massaria, a senior from Lexington, Michigan, studying health administration
Focusing on cancer research and diversity and inclusion in health care, Massaria worked extensively with the registered student organization St. Jude Up 'til Dawn and broke fundraising records during her time as sponsorship director.
She also helped write a grant for Community Cancer Services of Isabella County to provide financial assistance for residents diagnosed with cancer.
Massaria also planned and presented "Transgender and Healthcare: An Open Discussion Panel" in collaboration with the LGBTQ Student Interest Group within the College of Medicine.
Mount Pleasant Public Schools, Outstanding Community Partner
Partner in volunteer and professional opportunities for CMU students
"Through CMU volunteers, student teachers and mentors, we have more adults working with our students to provide additional individual support. We know this support is critical to student success. In turn, CMU students gain incredible real-world experience in our classrooms." — Jennifer Verleger, Mount Pleasant Public Schools superintendent.
Mount Pleasant Public Schools collaborates with CMU to provide volunteer and professional opportunities for students. Future educators gain hands-on teaching experience through student teaching placements, tutoring and volunteering.
The district also partners with CMU student organizations to offer programs to the community like trunk-or-treating, Parents Night Out and science exploration events.
Reported by University Communications intern Anna Kendall.