Community organizer and engagement specialist Dr. Keith Caldwell shared ways universities and their surrounding communities can partner to benefit both.

Members of the Niagara Falls community, Niagara University, and city government attended a presentation by community organizer and engagement specialist Dr. Keith Caldwell on Jan. 19, 2023, at NU@822. Dr. Caldwell, executive director of place-based initiatives in the Office of Engagement and Community Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh, offered strategies to grow existing collaborations as the foundation for high-impact engagement practices, examples of community-engaged research, and approaches to strengthening partnerships and programs during the second presentation in Niagara University’s community lecture series.

During the presentation, Dr. Caldwell gave an overview of the city of Pittsburgh and the ways the University of Pittsburgh has engaged communities in three of the 90 neighborhoods within the city: Homewood, the Hill District, and Hazelwood. The university has leased space in each of these neighborhoods to establish Community Engagement Centers, welcoming spaces that create a front door to Pitt in neighborhoods. The CECs offer programs and services developed in collaboration with residents that build capacity and improve quality of life without duplicating those already found in the community.

“By combining the community’s agenda and wisdom with the university’s assets and resources, we can make a difference,” he said.

University and community partnerships are mutually beneficial, Dr. Caldwell continued. Communities become stronger when they have a say in how the university operates to benefit their neighborhoods, organizations have greater access to the university’s expertise and resources to enhance the work they are doing, and residents have more opportunities for lifelong learning, health and wellness, employment, and experiencing the arts. In turn, the university is offered better access to existing community connections and support to establish new partnerships, students have more opportunities to learn from and with members of the community, and the university is able to diversify its student body, attract and retain community-oriented faculty, and enhance its mission of teaching, research, and service.

A question and answer session followed the presentation, with the opportunity for more detailed follow-up conversations between the university and the community.

Prior to joining the ECA team in 2022, Dr. Caldwell worked for 14 years with the Pitt School of Social Work, including serving as the chair of the BASW program and, most recently, as associate dean for student success. He received his doctorate in education from the Pitt School of Education, his master’s  degree in social work from Pitt’s School of Social Work, and his bachelor’s degree in social work from Niagara University.

The speaker series is sponsored by Niagara University’s Levesque Institute for Civic Engagement and the John R. Oishei Foundation. 

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