Group To Build Database
For years, data on UConn's economic impact on the state have been collected and widely distributed. But nobody, say Nancy Bull and Krista Rodin, has studied the impact of outreach by the University's faculty and staff on the economic and emotional well-being of the state's citizens.
Bull, associate director of UConn's Cooperative Extension System, and Rodin, dean of the College of Continuing Studies, for more than a year have discussed the need to build a database of all the work the University's nearly 4,000 faculty and staff perform beyond the UConn campus, from applied research to employee training, educational assistance to the state's elementary and secondary schools, business partnerships, and even the master gardener program. Late last year, they presented their idea to Fred Maryanski, senior vice provost for academic affairs, and the project began.
"The state gets a tremendous return on investment from this institution, and we have to do a better job at getting that information out," says Rodin. "This is an exciting project, and it's long overdue."
A standing committee was created and met in November to begin planning the collection and dissemination of data related to outreach. The Provost's Forum on Outreach includes deans, associate deans, and representatives from key offices - government relations, the president's office, and the regional campuses among them.
Bull says the idea began taking shape about a year ago when University President Philip E. Austin was preparing to make a presentation in Bridgeport, and his staff asked her about UConn's involvement in the city. Bull realized she didn't know, beyond some programs the extension system provided.
"We knew UConn had to be involved in a number of programs there that make a difference, but we had no idea how to discover the extent of those efforts," she says.
So they began contacting other universities for possible models. And now the committee is working with University Communications to develop a web survey and, later, a website where UConn employees can report their activities, and where external audiences - people seeking UConn's assistance - can ascertain what's available and how to make contact.
"To the external world, we're just UConn," says Rodin. "People know we graduate thousands of students, but not much else. They don't realize how often we're in their community, how much more we are than just the academy, how much we contribute to the quality of life in this state."
The data also could be useful internally, the two say, by giving deans, directors, and department heads an idea of just how active their faculty and staff are in the community. The data could even be incorporated into the promotion and tenure process.
"The University is recognized as providing excellent degree-based education for young adults," Maryanski says. "We are not as well recognized for our youth programs, service in the community, programs for working adults, programs for business and industry, and programs for seniors, although we have strong programs in those areas. As the University's land grant mission speaks to education across the lifespan, it would be very beneficial to let people know the extent of UConn's reach."
The committee also is studying how other universities collect data and promote their outreach programs; these institutions include Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI); Penn State; and Michigan State University. Officials at Michigan State have offered to share their web-based format for reporting outreach efforts and leading external audiences to resources available to them. Staff there spent more than five years building their program; and using much of what they have developed could save the UConn committee several years of work.
Rodin says the committee focused on those three universities because they have the best and most advanced programs. UConn, she says, will borrow pieces from each. She and Bull hope to have UConn's outreach website in place by summer. A link to the website will be provided on the University's home page.
Rodin says the timetable calls for a questionnaire to be available to faculty and staff online by late summer. The rollout would take another year, she says.
During that time, Bull says she hopes UConn employees performing outreach will contact the committee with ideas or information on their projects.
"We really are making a difference in how communities develop and how business and industry develop with the outreach of our faculty and staff do," Bull says. "Now it's just a question of how we can communicate that."