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Community partnerships offer UC 'problem-rich' opportunities

by Nancy L. Zimpher

I am certainly not the first to say, "Great cities need great universities, and great universities need great cities," but I do believe that this adage has particular relevance for UC and its home community of Greater Cincinnati.

Since UC's founding as a municipal university, it has a long history of connection and partnership with the community. Today, as we transition to a "metro nation" with most of our population living in cities, a national research university like UC can intensify its impact in the region and the state, across the country and beyond.

In recent decades, the university as an "ivory tower" has become an antiquated notion and has been replaced -- in particular for urban, public universities -- with the idea of universities as "anchor institutions" in their communities. In short, we're not going anywhere. Here at home, that means UC, the city's largest employer, must build bridges to regional stewardship through mutually beneficial, high-impact partnerships with the community.

This changing role is also receiving more attention nationally. UC plays a leading role in the Coalition of Urban Servings Universities, which is working to unite 39 public urban universities through common goals and advocacy of federal policies that benefit urban communities. The recent Brookings Institution report MetroNation (2007) highlights just how urban our nation, our economy and our world have become:

The top 100 metro areas in the United States generate 75% of the Gross Domestic Product.

Metro areas in the United States are home to eight in 10 Americans and jobs.

More than half of the world's total population lives in metropolitan areas.

Here in Ohio alone, more than 71 percent of our population lives in cities and the surrounding metro areas. This shifting scene provides a problem-rich environment for academics to examine and address societal challenges. That is one of the prime reasons I agreed to serve as the chair of the board of directors for the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber in 2008 and why UC is involved in a number of partnership activities aimed at improving the quality of life in our community. All of this is a logical extension of who we are and what we are about.

Just a few examples of our community relationships and outreach include:

UC Center for the City -- This UC "front door" facilitates innovative, mutually beneficial partnerships with the community and makes sure that UC is involved and adding value to key community initiatives like Agenda 360, the regional action plan currently under development.

Center for Community Engage-ment -- This growing center connects students with meaningful volunteer op-portunities in the community and assists faculty with incorporating community-based learning into their courses. (Read more about CCE.)

Strive -- UC co-founded and plays a leading role in this groundbreaking education partnership linking the urban cores of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. Our goal is to make sure that every child graduates from high school and college and goes on to a productive career.

I can only skim the surface of UC's community partnerships on this page, but read on to learn more about how our focus on community translates at a grass-roots level in our own backyard -- and around the globe.