Saturday, August 13, 2022

Bringing Together Opportunities: Organization aims for UT community engagement

The University of Toledo has many different programs that offer assistance to the community, on top of the resources given to the students and faculty. Unfortunately many people may not know of these programs or how to get involved with them. That’s why the University is working with staff member Valerie Simmons-Walston to enhance community engagement. 

Simmons-Walston has been working with the University of Toledo since 2017 when she was named Associate Vice President of Student Affairs and Director of Residence Life. Recently she was appointed as a special assistant to  UT President Gregory Postel. That work involves creating a centralized body, the Community Engagement Office, to oversee and promote work in the community and programs that enhance faculty, students, and the community around the university. 

Uniting the University

“Currently, there are hundreds of partnerships within the community through our faculty and students,” explained Simmons-Walston. This can be anything from a student-run dancing competition raising money for charity, to a program where Jeep begins a recruitment program within the university for local jobs. “There isn’t one central office to ensure these programs are properly engaging with the community. Plus we have no group to build and repair relationships that may not have been nurtured in the past.” 

Within the past few weeks groups such as Owens Community College, Toledo Public Schools, and The Order of The Pythagorans have reached out to partner with Simmons-Walston for future projects. “These groups reached out to me in an effort to partner in some way, and I’m in the midst of making these contacts” for projects within the Community Engagement Office, said Simmons-Walston.

With those ideas in place, Simmons-Walston is looking to the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, a century-old organization involved in promoting education. “In 2026 we have the opportunity to once again have a foundation recognition from Carnegie, in order to get funding for our programs. But we need to document that we are able to live up to the foundation’s principles by showing how effective our community engagement is.” 

By creating an on-campus advisory board to oversee various projects, Simmons-Walston said, “everyone benefits: everyone has a chance to report on their efforts, and we can show the university has a structure put in place to get funding where it needs to go. Showing we have a research and practical-based initiative for outreach legitimizes the work that we’re doing.”

Reaching Out

So far the university has contacted and been contacted by local companies and charitable organizations to figure out more projects. “We are looking at nurturing relationships with Jeep, Hope Toledo and Dana to provide co-op and internship opportunities for our students. Overall we’ve had about 17 different organizations reach out, and we want to nurture these relationships. It seems like the Rocket community has been waiting for an announcement like this.” 

Another positive aspect of creating one central organization is letting the community know where to go for help. “Having one central body acts as a liaison for the community, so they know where to go for information on university programs,” Simmons-Walson said. “They can also find out how to develop partnerships with us easily. A successful group like that doesn’t just involve one aspect of the university. We’re ensuring we have a comprehensive resource for community engagement at the university for faculty, community, staff, and students.”

Related Articles