community discussion

Creating A Sustainable Action-Oriented Engagement Infrastructure

Published in Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, University of Minnesota researchers and colleagues recently described the mission of MIDB's Community Engagement and Education (CEEd) Hub and efforts underway to develop and fortify sustainable pathways for authentic community-academic partnerships to enhance mutually beneficial scientific discovery.

"Our intent is to de-center the dominant academic voice and affirm knowledge creation is augmented by diverse voices within and outside of traditional academic institutions," said lead author and CEEd Director Anita Randolph, PhD. "The endemic issues of structural racism, ableism, sexism, and other inequities cannot be addressed by changes in policies and practices alone: change will require direct action and work in the trenches with our communities. To de-center the academic voice, we, the academic community, must move away from the authoritarian approach of creating, disseminating, and teaching knowledge."

Furthermore, the authors say, "Immediate changes are needed to shift the institutional climate to open dialogues, continuous education, and feedback at every level."

Formed to create a culture of interactive community engagement, build strong reciprocal community connections, and collaboratively create infrastructure to foster bidirectional benefits, the CEEd Hub is working toward investing and building an inclusive environment to accelerate impact on the community, which includes:

  • Establishing community engagement using a listening model to co-create programming and infrastructure. The CEEd Hub works alongside the community and elevates their voices. Rather than offering a menu of services asking the community to select from a predetermined list of programs, CEEd formed programming based on the community’s expressed needs via direct and continuous engagement.
  • Increasing capacity through collaboration. The CEEd Hub founded the Neuroscience Opportunities for Discovery and Equity (NODE), a centralized arena for the development of neuroscience-focused engagement programs across 10 separate departments at the University. NODE’s collaborative nature prevents silos between engagement-focused groups across the University to reduce duplicated efforts, cost, and staffing barriers.
  • Leveraging a “community first” engagement infrastructure to diversify the science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) workforce. Through programs including the Young Scientists Program, the Youth Engaged with Science Program, NextGen Psych Scholars Program, and the MN Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities Program, efforts are underway to engage with underrepresented minority students in K-12, undergraduate, and graduate school, as well as their families, to increase STEAM participation and develop the next generation of underrepresented minority scientists.

"To diversify STEAM, we must embrace 'variability'—our diversity—and provide access to this pursuit to all of the talents that exist in our society. Ironically, in the sciences, our ability to proportionally value the importance of this principle has been limited,” said Randolph. "Recruiting, training and retaining a diverse pool of highly skilled individuals in neuroscience is imperative for maximizing our investments and potential in research and education."

The authors note that although the efforts of MIDB are still in its early stages, the work continues to grow and shape itself through directly listening to community members, acting and reacting, and pursuing a mission of diversity and representation in programming, infrastructure, and staffing.

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