Collaboration for a better future

A university can learn from the communities around it, and it can also help those communities thrive. Arizona State University demonstrates that relationship with its commitment to social embeddedness.

“At ASU, we define social embeddedness as a commitment to building relationships with the community through mutually beneficial partnerships. With those partners, we work together to identify problems and co-create solutions,” said Jacqueline Smith, ASU University Initiatives Office associate vice president and executive director.

Social embeddedness is one of Arizona State University’s (ASU) design aspirations, which are in place to guide the university to achieve excellence, access and impact.

“We are optimists who really want to see our society improved and we know that the thorniest challenges require collaboration and that we must work together in order to really thrive here in our community,” Smith said.

She explained that ASU President Dr. Crow set out to change the role of the university in society when he joined the university in the early 2000s. Since then, ASU has worked to co-create and collaborate with the community in order to reach its vision for the future.

“Because of this mindset and focus on working collaboratively, it’s enhanced the way that we teach and learn,” Smith said. “It’s enabled us to practice community-engaged research, it has enabled us to work with our partners on capacity-building efforts, and actually rethink our own spaces.”

In February, ASU held the 2019 Social Embeddedness Network conference at the Tempe campus that allowed almost 300 faculty and staff to “share their strategies about how they advanced socially embedded research, teaching, student engagement,” Smith said. “At a large university like ASU with many campuses and many initiatives, we realized that we wanted to build a community of practice for those faculty, staff and students that are working in a socially embedded way so that they can learn from each other, share their wins, share when they may have encountered difficulties so that they can learn and improve.”

Those involved in the conference could spread the word about their work, present best practices and brainstorm ways to tackle challenges.

ASU engages in a variety of initiatives that encourage social embeddedness and benefit the university and the community.

One example is the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions at ASU, which is leading the One Square Mile Initiative, an effort to revitalize the Maryvale community in Phoenix.

Mike and Cindy Watts, who grew up in Maryvale, invested in the school and this initiative in an effort to support the underserved community. The One Square Mile Initiative is geared to help current initiatives in Maryvale connect with each other and strengthen their work.

“It’s a great example of our efforts to engage a variety of community-based organizations in that area to concentrate ASU’s program in this community and to help connect the dots between what a variety of faculty, a variety of students are doing in a more concentrated and holistic way,” Smith said.

Sierra Ciaramella

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