Beyond the Campus: Building a Sustainable University-Community Partnership
reviewed by Matt A. Starcke & Alyssa N. Rockenbach - January 13, 2016
Title: Beyond the Campus: Building a Sustainable University-Community Partnership
Author(s): Debra Harkins
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1623962412, Pages: 204, Year: 2013
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Debra Harkinss Beyond the Campus: Building a Sustainable University-Community Partnership is a useful guide for faculty interested in engaging communities. Grounded in the rich history of college and community engagement, this book serves two purposes. First, the authorsHarkins and the Community Action Project Teamconceptually explain the reasons for, importance of, and essential considerations necessary, when undertaking community-based research (CBR) projects. Second, these conceptual considerations are illustrated with tangible examples and insightful anecdotes using their experience working in partnership with an early learning center. Faculty in disciplines with less obvious community partnerships may struggle applying the lessons of Beyond the Campus, but the overall theme of this work is broadly applicable: namely, colleges must be engaged partners in their respective communities, and these effortswhen undertakencan benefit faculty, students, and community alike.
Organized in three sections, Beyond the Campus first establishes connections between scholarship, teaching, learning, and community engagement; then provides a discussion of community engagement efforts and assessment methods; and finally concludes with a number of important lessons and suggestions for others interested in establishing or improving their engagement projects. Most importantly, these objectives are not pursued in a vacuum. At its core, this book documents the partnership experience of the author Harkins, a host of co-authors from the Community Action Project Team, and an early learning center located in the Northeastern U.S. The executive director asked Harkins to reduce violent behavior occurring at the center. This was followed by a multi-year collaborative endeavor reaching far beyond the initial request. This experience is usefully employed throughout the text to illustrate the theoretical and conceptual frameworks advanced by the authors.
The root of the charge that motivates Beyond the Campus lies in the mission of higher education. While institutions and their faculty may currently engage the community at varied levels, Harkins argues that this activity is a central function of higher education and should be an expected behavior. However, the authors suggest this behavior is atypical, running counter to what they see as a culture emphasizing the individual over the community. Fortunately, faculty are able to effect institutional change in a number of ways, including (re)shaping students educational experiences, emphasizing community involvement, and serving as role models for their students. The book delves into a broad discussion of CBR and a specific one within the context of a community partnership experienced first-hand by the authors.
Harkins and her colleagues explore a number of topics including community service, conflict, power, and learning in their book. Readers are provided frameworks conceptualizing the focus of each chapter, followed by a discussion of these frameworks as operationalized in the context of the authors work with the early learning center site. This dual approach was particularly helpful as the authors seek to draw a distinction between service learning and CBR and then illustrate the latter when discussing their partnership with the center. Further, the authors readily admit when their on-the-ground efforts fall short of the theoretical, as is the case in their discussion of diversity and power differentials. Ultimately, Beyond the Campus is a useful text clearly linking theory to practice.
Although the theory and examples provided by the authors are clearly useful, some readers may struggle to adapt the lessons to their own paradigm. Specifically, faculty in disciplines with less readily apparent community ties may finish the book questioning where or how to forge meaningful campus and community partnerships, especially those described by the authors. For example, while faculty in education or psychology might easily draw parallels from the book to their own work, the same might not be true of chemistry faculty. Nevertheless, the authors presentation of the benefits of CBR projects are compelling and hopefully encourage faculty to identify meaningful engagement opportunities for themselves and their students regardless of discipline.
CBR projects benefit students, faculty, and community partners in ways traditional service-learning projects do not. The latter have received criticism for placing too much emphasis on student learning at the expense of community goals, often attempting to shoehorn projects into one- or two-semester windows involving students who have received little-to-no training. CBR projects, on the other hand, recognize the partnerships critical for success and navigate the shortcomings of traditional service-learning projects accordingly. A particular strength of this book is the collection of diverse voices found within. While Harkins provides an in-depth account of her work with the early learning center, readers also hear from former students and colleagues involved in the project and read reflections from early learning center staff members. These additional voices lend credence to the message championed by Beyond the Campus and deliver first-hand accounts of the specific ways in which this particular CBRand, by extension, possibly other CBR projects more generallybenefitted those involved.
Ultimately, the authors of Beyond the Campus advocate for CBR projects because they work. University-community partnerships represent opportunities to tackle complex community issues and forge sustainable relationships that can mutually benefit each partner (p. 147). Faculty, students, community partners, and the general public each stand to gain when these projects are pursued, a lesson this text repeatedly emphasizes via applied discussion of the early learning center partnership. By coupling theory and detailed accounts of a CBR project from multiple perspectives, Beyond the Campus issues a compelling call for institutions to return to their fundamental mission of intentionally engaging with their respective communities for the benefit of all.