Friday, April 26, 2013
Callaghan Auditorium, College of Public Health Building


Thank you very much for participating in this very important workshop on public engagement in higher education. I welcome you to what promises to be an inspiring, enlightening, and challenging conversation.

I am very pleased and proud to see such a large crowd here today. At the University of Iowa, we are experiencing a wonderful new energy for more publicly engaged teaching and research, as well as a growing commitment to service to the people of our community, our state, and our society at large. Your presence here clearly shows that you are among our most important campus leaders in this significant effort to make life better for all through our mission of learning, discovery, and engagement.

I would like to thank the Obermann Working Group for organizing this marvelous program, as well as the Provost’s Office, the Office of Vice President for Research and Economic Development, the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, and the Center for Teaching for supporting this very special workshop.

Public engagement in higher education has been an issue of great interest and concern in recent years as we explore what our role is in the advancement of a strong and prosperous society. One of the most crucial ideas to come from this inquiry has been the idea of engagement as partnership. As institutions of higher education, we cannot be of service to society by merely existing, and we cannot decide by ourselves what service and outreach our communities need and what we will provide. As a public university, we must be sensitive to the needs of our citizenry. But engagement goes beyond this mindful awareness. We must also consult and collaborate with our public to assess and address their needs. Engagement must be a partnership where we join with our communities in inquiry regarding their needs and dreams. The new public engagement is collaborative and consultative, and it is a process by which we all—communities and educational institutions alike—learn, discover, innovate, and create together in order to advance our society.

As our world globalizes, as technological transformations change the way we work and learn, and as our constituents diversify, we as institutions of higher education must respond to the changing needs of our society. Yet one fundamental aspect of our mission remains at the core of our public engagement work. Whether we are talking about improving society through better health care, stronger social services, enhancement of the arts and humanities, or more robust economic development, education is our chief means of contributing to the betterment of society. Graduating highly skilled professional workers who we have also learned to be active, engaged citizens and community members remains our most important public engagement task. But even as we provide direct service to communities, teaching and learning are inevitably involved as we work with individuals, schools, health care providers, organizations, and businesses in bringing improvements to their constituents.

Today, you will learn about and discuss many different areas of the university in which public engagement plays a central role in fulfilling our university mission. One area that exemplifies how public engagement aligns with the university of today is sustainability, which we have been focusing on a lot during this Earth Month. Five years ago, I launched a sustainability initiative at Iowa, encouraging our university community to embrace sustainability as a central priority of all aspects of our university enterprise—our operations, our academic mission, and our responsibilities to the greater society. It is incumbent upon us as institutions of higher education, the source of discovery and new knowledge, to advance our leadership in the critical environmental and social challenges of our time. One of the most exciting and comprehensive sustainability programs at Iowa that combines education, research, and direct community engagement is the Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities in our Urban and Regional Planning program. IISC’s purpose is to apply our student and faculty talent and knowledge to develop plans and initiatives that will enable Iowa’s towns and cities to enhance their community sustainability. You will hear much more about this remarkable initiative in just a few minutes as our director of the School of Urban and Regional Planning, Chuck Connerly, tells you all about it.

This is a signature sustainability program for our university, but I am proud that sustainability has in fact taken hold in so many aspects of our higher education enterprise. We are literally sitting in a crown jewel among not only the university’s sustainable facilities, but the state of Iowa’s. We were all very excited to hear the news recently that the College of Public Health Building earned LEED Platinum certification, our first academic building to do so and only the second on campus overall. Our sustainability educational programs continue to grow with the recent addition of the new undergraduate Wind Energy Certificate, which includes coursework across many of the College of Engineering’s departments as well as the Department of Geography in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Our Water Sustainability Initiative continues to grow its interdisciplinary research, focusing on water’s availability, quality, reuse, health impacts, and relationship to a changing climate. Students, of course, are integral to our public engagement efforts, and their engaged sustainability work is inspiring. UI engineering students, for example, have conducted projects ranging from designing and installing rain gardens on our campus to making solar cookers for rural villages in Cameroon.

Our sustainability work is only one area where the University of Iowa makes a significant impact on our state and society. And today you will learn about not only many other areas of engagement work, but also about  nuts-and-bolts topics such as planning engagement work, assessing it, and working with external partners.

Johnnetta Cole was the first African American female president of Spelman College, was president of Bennett College, served as Chair of the Board of Trustees of the United Way of America, and is currently director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art. Dr. Cole has said, “An education that teaches you to understand something about the world has done only half of the assignment.  The other half is to teach you to do something about making the world a better place.” Thank you once again for coming here today to learn and share about putting the university’s learning and discovery into engaged action in order to make the world a better place.