Engaged, informed citizens are essential to the basic function and democratic foundation of our communities and our nation. These leaders get involved, volunteer, speak up, and ask questions. They practice civility, respect and inclusiveness, caring not only about their community, but the world beyond their neighborhoods.
These ideals, the very pillars of our idea of democracy, are the same principles that guide colleges and universities, like Indiana University Northwest, in their curriculum development, community engagement, and alumni advancement efforts.
With the public purpose to enhance the quality of life of the most diverse, urban, industrialized region of the state, my campus colleagues and I work diligently to engage our students and the greater community in high-quality teaching and scholarship. At the same time, we also look to establish partnerships within the community to reciprocally promote social, economic, and cultural development.
In its simplest form, what colleges and universities are positioned to do best is improve lives through capacity building. As the region’s university, it is a strategic priority and our obligation (as well as our privilege) to be a community resource. We invest our intellectual capital with our community partners, to cultivate and strengthen their skills, knowledge and resources, so that they can improve and thrive.
This premise, that IU Northwest is of the community, is demonstrated daily through course work and projects involving our students and professional staff colleagues. During the last academic year, nearly half of all IU Northwest students contributed more than 200,000 service hours in Northwest Indiana communities, by way of reciprocal projects with local governments, businesses, not-for-profits, schools and healthcare facilities.
IU Northwest’s long-standing relationship with the Griffith Police Department, particularly with Chief of Police Greg Mance (a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree graduate of IU Northwest), is a premier example of the tangible benefits that result from mutually-beneficial collaboration.
Chief Mance has called upon the human and intellectual resources of our campus in a variety of ways over the years, from working with the School of Public and Environmental Affairs on crime mapping (a collaborative initiative of more than twenty law enforcement agencies), to partnerships with the Center for Urban and Regional Excellence on diversity hiring workshops.
Through these relationship, IU Northwest has been able to assist the Griffith Police Department in an area of substantive need with innovative thinking to the department’s most pressing organizational interests. In return, our students’ academic experiences are amplified by practical, hands-on opportunities that help to build their resumes, portfolios, competitiveness, and most important, their confidence.
It is affirming for the campus when a partner such as the Griffith Police Department reports encouraging results in which we had a role. Over the last five years, the Town of Griffith has realized a 36 percent reduction of property crimes and a 51 percent decline in violent crimes, for the lowest crime rate in over 35 years.
As we see it, education has more value than simply training students for a profession. Graduates should take with them the understanding that they can use their knowledge and skills of their degrees for a career, and for the public good. Chief Mance takes advantage of the potential for a transformative impact that resides in a strong, reciprocal community-based relationship.
But partnerships with local agencies are not one-directional. It takes the alignment of community and university commitment and expertise, working together, to achieve change and to build sustainable outcomes. For these opportunities and partners, IU Northwest is deeply grateful, since they allow our campus to fulfill its promise: to help our students and Northwest Indiana thrive.
So, many thanks to our fellow Northwest Indiana citizens, who continue to carry out community and civic engagement in our schools, neighborhoods and non-profit organizations, where collective efforts will make a difference in the life of our communities and create opportunities for colleges and universities such as IU Northwest to offer enriching learning experiences for our students and contribute to the continued growth, health, economic vitality, and quality of life of the regional community that we share.