This week, I will be in Athens, Georgia attending the Emergent Engagemet Scholars Workshop at the National Outreach Scholarship Conference. This workshop is for graduate students and young faculty who have an interest in community outreach and engagement. From what I can gather, the purpose is to emphasize the third element of higher education besides research and teaching: service.
Although service can certainly be defined in the concept of administrative duties and student mentorship, I think that community engagement should be something that all members of a university should consider. Being forced o engage the public forces you to consistently evaluate your research in terms of relevancy. If it isn’t relevant, if the community can’t easily understand why you do what you do, or why they are being asked to “engage” then your research may need to be examined.
I decided to apply for this workshop because I have an interest in engaging the communities whose past I study. With campus archaeology, this consists of the members of MSU, be they students, alumni, faculty, or staff, and the communities of Lansing and East Lansing. In southern Maryland, I hope to somehow engage members of the African American community, as I am working on examining their past, particularly their ancestors emancipation. Archaeologists such as Maria Franklin has been particularly interested in engaging these communities within all elements of research design, data collection, analysis, and presentation. Such an approach seems drastic, but certainly works to break down the division between the public and the ivory tower.
I will certainly have more to say by the end of the conference. For thoughts that emerge during te conference, please feel free to follow me @brockter on Twitter, as well as the hash tag #NOSC09. I have no idea If there are any other Twitter users at the conference, but hopefully we will find out.