The Collegian
Monday, August 08, 2022

Report shows upward trend in civic engagement

Collegian Reporter

A 2007 community engagement report shows the University of Richmond had a $450 million annual economic impact on the Greater Richmond economy, contributed over 100,000 hours of community service a year and was one of the top 25 private employers in the Greater Richmond area.

Yet, the university is looking for ways to make an even greater impact.

John McCulla, director of community relations, compiled the report and said the university was on an upward trend for community engagement. He said one of the most important components of sustaining this trend was President Edward Ayers' willingness and openness to look for ways the different colleges could engage in the community.

"That's been an observation by the community, as well," McCulla said.

"They see our president out there and active, attending functions and speaking about our commitment to community engagement. He's telling the story of that importance, but he's also asking where else can we be involved."

Ayers has a strategic plan with five principles that outlines the university's goals for the next five years. One of the goals is for the university to make a stronger impact and contribute more to the Greater Richmond area.

Ayers said he wanted the university to be known not only as the University of Richmond, but also as the University for Richmond. He said he thought it was a moral responsibility because of all the resources the university had.

"It strikes me as necessary that we be active members of where we live," Ayers said.

Each principle of the strategic plan has a working group made up of faculty, staff, students, alumni and trustee representatives. James Narduzzi, dean and professor of continuing studies, who is a co-chair of the community engagement working group, said the community engagement working group had been meeting every two or three weeks since May.

"We're still on the idea-gathering stage," Narduzzi said.

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Each working group has proposed goals and action steps into draft reports. Narduzzi said that one thing the group learned was that the university was already significantly engaged in the Richmond community, and the working group had asked themselves whether the current engagement was making as much impact as it could.

One of the goals the community engagement working groups' draft report pinpoints is that the university focus its resources and time under one common purpose.

"The framework is really designed to make sure that we are having the impact we want on the learning on campus and in the community in which we live, work and serve," Narduzzi said. "The idea of the common purpose is not to devalue any current activity. It's rather to provide an opportunity to focus future activities."

The working group draft plans will now go to a steering committee, which would combine the reports into one singe strategic plan draft by November.

The community engagement report is compiled every year and outlines all the ways that the university impacted the surrounding community.

McCulla said there was a perception that the university was contained to itself and that activity and students were not very visible to the community. The report is to let leaders and members of the Greater Richmond area see how the university contributes.

"We shouldn't have to ring our own bell, but we do need to tell our story," McCulla said. "We shouldn't be bashful about the good work that we're doing."

The community engagement report outlines the economic, educational, community service, cultural, and athletic impact the university has on the community.

The report said the university generated a $450 million annual economic impact on the Greater Richmond economy. McCulla said this figure is a generally accepted as the average economic impact of other universities in their communities.

The report also said the university was one of the top 25 private employers in the Greater Richmond area. This is based on the number of employees at the university, but McCulla said that one of the university's best assets was the private employees, faculty and staff.

"Everything the university does, whether it's the students, faculty, or staff, is always done with quality and excellence in mind," McCulla said. "We're known for that. The leaders in our community recognize the University of Richmond for always offering and always doing its best."

Another way the University of Richmond contributes to the community is through alumni. The report stated that more than 12,000 alumni reside in the Greater Richmond area. McCulla said about 85 percent of students come from outside of the area, but that 30 percent of graduating students stayed in the area.

"One important thing for our region and where Richmond contributes is that we need well-educated young professionals to stay here and work in Richmond," McCulla said.

In the report, McCulla wrote that university students, faculty and staff contributed more than 100,000 hours of community service in the past year. He then listed the different projects and outreach programs carried out in the past year.

Another way administrators in the Office of Community Relations let the area know about the university's involvement is through an e-mail newsletter, CommunityWeb. CommunityWeb is sent to 7,600 people in the Greater Richmond area and provides news, learning opportunities and coming speakers and cultural events.

"We started it originally for leaders in the community, from the mayor down to all the city council members down to all the business leaders," McCulla said.

McCulla said the university could increase its community engagement by continuing to be inviting. He said there were many residents of Richmond that had never been to campus.

Contact staff writer Emma Anderson at emma.anderson@richmond.edu

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