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Strengthening DePaul’s community engagement

Through regular meetings and a new database, the university's Council on Community Engagement hopes to expand the campus' knowledge DePaul's engagement with and service to Chicago communities.
Through regular virtual meetings and a new database, the university's Council on Community Engagement hopes to expand the campus knowledge regarding DePaul's engagement with Chicago communities. (DePaul University/Randall Spriggs)

Dedicated to improving collaboration and increasing the effectiveness of DePaul's many community engagement initiatives within the city, the university's Council on Community Engagement emerged in early 2018. Housed in a university that prides itself on service and hands-on learning opportunities, the CCE ensures this work is done well and aligns with DePaul's Vincentian mission.

Currently, three co-chairs lead the council - Mark Laboe, from the Division of Mission and Ministry, and Howard Rosing and Helen Damon-Moore, both from the Steans Center. Alongside them are 40 faculty and staff representing nearly every college and department across DePaul. The council also has several student members, as well as representatives from some of the university's partner organizations.

During its most recent meeting, just before the COVID-19 outbreak, the council discussed questions about how to best make the university population more aware of the community engagement work happening across the institution. The group plans to continue meeting virtually in the coming months.

“We want to ensure the left hand knows more about what the right hand is doing," Laboe emphasized during the session. 

From volunteer community service programs to academic programs focused on supporting communities in need, DePaul members work with hundreds of groups and nonprofits across Chicagoland. Organizing and coordinating these activities and relationships is a complex undertaking, but it is essential  for achieving  DePaul's strategic goal to better coordinate and advance mission-based community outreach efforts.

“The council allows for a more purposeful connective tissue," says John Ziegler, the director of the Egan Office for Urban Education and Community Partnerships and member of the CCE.  “Becoming more collective, instead of individual, in our approach enables more of an authentic voice with the communities where the school is engaged."

One of the first steps in organizing the council involved determining who was already participating in outreach efforts, where and with whom they were working, and how they were communicating about programs. The council found many colleges and organizations were participating in outreach in the same places, but in different ways. This led to the decision to invest in a software solution called Collaboratorya database now being developed for use at DePaul that will record projects of groups and departments within particular sectors throughout Chicago.

“Our hope is for council members to be the voice for Collaboratory," says Barbara Smith-Weaver, associate director of the Steans Center. “Spreading the word about this system is important for our community engagement work from an institutional standpoint. Collaboratory is the place to tell the story about what you are doing."

Since the fall, Smith-Weaver has connected with and trained council members on how to use the new system, and data within the system have grown. In the months ahead, more and more university partners will be invited to join Collaboratory and will be trained to enter data on their community engagement projects.

As CCE members continue their work, they hope to gain greater insight into how DePaul can make a more positive impact on the broader community through shared efforts and working in a more coordinated way across the institution.