By Andres Tamayo
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (November 23, 2016)—There are many words that have become synonymous with the University of Miami over the years. Academics, research, and athletics are a few that come to mind. Now another word—engagement—which is embedded in every school, college, and department across the University—is receiving the highest validation. ln honor of its 25th anniversary, Florida Campus Compact has declared UM “the most engaged institution of higher education in the state of Florida.”
Adding to a host of other awards the U has received for engagement during the past few years is the Florida Campus Compact’s Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Engaged Campus Special Award for advancing the “public purposes of higher education, improving community life and educating students for civic and social responsibility.” Comprised of over 50 college and university presidents, Florida Campus Compact has been helping students develop the values and skills of active citizenship for 25 years.
“We are so honored to receive this award in recognition of the tremendous work being done by our faculty and students to promote community-based learning and research on all of our campuses,” said Robin Bachin, assistant provost for Civic and Community Engagement. “We offer over 450 courses with a service-learning component, giving students the opportunity to translate classroom knowledge into real-world problem-solving skills that address our most pressing community needs.”
Bachin and her team at Civic and Community Engagement (CCE) don’t just preach civic engagement. They work hands-on with the community to help resolve some of the city’s most urgent issues. One of these issues is affordable housing.
Recently, CCE helped develop a first-of-its-kind free and publicly accessible tool for affordable housing called the Miami Affordability Project (MAP). Developed in partnership with the Center for Computational Science, MAP provides more than 100 data filters on housing, demographics, and property data that will help develop data-driven strategies for affordable housing development and historic preservation.
The Butler Center for Volunteer Service and Leadership Development, which has been at UM for over 25 years, also facilitates student engagement in the local community. Director Andrew Wiemer and his team serve as catalysts in developing students into engaged citizens who cultivate positive social change within their communities.
The team works directly with more than 40 student organizations that have a service-based focus and organizes campus-wide service days for students, which gives them the opportunity to become educated on local needs and issues in the community. This past year alone, UM students have documented over 157,489 service hours within their curricular and co-curricular experiences.
“This award is a wonderful testament to our students and their continued dedication to the community,” Wiemer said. “The University of Miami has some of the most civically minded and actively engaged students from across the world, and it is a joy to work with them each day as we continue to educate others about the importance of this work and improve our greater Miami community.”
As part of its mission to help students be more engaged, the Butler Center also offers an online platform where students can connect with community agencies. This provides students with ways to serve in area communities, even if the activities are not directly affiliated with UM.
As senior Alina Zerpa put it: “UM, through its various campus programs and community outreach centers, has helped me become more aware of issues local communities are facing and influenced me to volunteer in community events.”
Student Alexis Musick, the University of Miami’s Campus Compact Newman Civic Fellow, said her involvement in the community “has done wonders” to contextualize what she learns in class. “It’s one thing to have a unit on public health or Spanish grammar, but another thing entirely to speak with someone in their most comfortable language and see an issue on the ground, from their perspective.”
Many other programs and initiatives at the University provide service in a variety of areas. The Donna E. Shalala MusicReach Program at the Frost School of Music, for example, offers musical instruments and instruction to individuals around Miami with the aim of building healthier and happier communities and positive development of individuals through music.
Partners in Action, or “Patnè en Aksyon,” a partnership between the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the Miller School of Medicine and key Haitian-American community-based organizations in Miami, aims to reduce breast cancer mortality among Haitian-American women in Miami by catching the cancer in early stages, ultimately providing a better chance of survival for the patient.
As Campus Compact’s award reflects, UM has a long-standing relationship with the diverse are that surrounds it and is doing its best—the best in the state—to advance not only students at the University but also the inhabitants of Greater Miami.