TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Community and university engagement at The University of Alabama received a boost today with the unveiling of the UA Student Community Engagement Center.
The SCEC is a 4,000 square-foot hub in Capital Hall that will house 14 anchor student organizations from six UA colleges and schools. It is open to all students and groups with an interest in connecting their efforts to engagement work in the community, said Carol Agomo, director of community and administrative affairs at UA.
The SCEC includes individual offices for student organizations, an open area for collaboration and a conference room. The space will also serve as a meeting area for community partners that work with UA student groups.
The SCEC will also support community engagement work of faculty and staff and connect them with student groups that have similar missions.
The UA student chapter of the Public Relations Council of Alabama has already begun using the space for work meetings. PRCA has launched community partnerships with Catholic Social Services, Good Samaritan Clinic, SD Allen Ministry and Five Horizons to tackle a variety of community issues, such as hunger, poverty and HIV outreach, by providing communications infrastructure and strategies and multimedia tools for each agency.
“PRCA’s mission is to provide real-world experiences for all of our members through active engagement,” said Anna McAbee, a junior public relations major. “So, when we heard about this space, the main selling point was that students would be able to do real-world work.”
Dr. Andrew Pearl, director of community engagement research and publications in UA’s Center for Community-Based Partnerships, said the center was designed to not only provide students a designated meeting space, but to encourage synergy and transdisciplinary work among all student groups. The “cross-talk” has already begun, as PRCA members have met with student groups from UA’s School of Social Work and College of Engineering.
Pearl said the center is the first of its type in the realm of higher education and community engagement. He is keen for the center to be a catalyst for student groups to move “beyond reciprocity and into co-creation,” and to form more authentic partnerships.
“We want our students to understand the mission of each partner, but we want to develop goals in concert with one another,” Pearl said. “Building these relationships in this manner will help get to the root causes of problems.”
A key element in growing the center is developing strong relationships and trust from community partners, and to reach that goal, the center must be a collaborative space “meant for everyone,” Pearl said. The center’s policies reflect that aspect, as community partners can hold their own meetings at the center. Additionally, the center is conveniently located at UA’s Peter Bryce campus, making it easy for community partners to access and find parking.