Not So Obvious – Collaboration Across Disciplines and Organizational Missions

At Weber State University’s (WSU) Center for Community Engaged Learning (CCEL) one of our roles is connecting campus with community and community with campus. We often play the role of matchmaker as community partners or WSU faculty come to us with ideas for collaboration. When these opportunities arise, we seem to gravitate to the obvious choices; for example, a social work class might be paired with a women’s shelter. While many of these partnerships are the perfect combination for creating a rich environment of service learning, some of the most meaningful partnerships between a Community Engaged Learning (CEL) class and a community partner have been unlikely pairings. In a world where disciplines constantly overlap and a well-rounded diverse education is valued, it is important to be open to and foster these types of collaborations.

An example of such a pairing here at Weber State University was between a computer science course and the Weber County Clerk/Auditor-Elections office.  This particular computer science course emphasizes teamwork in small groups on a substantial software engineering project that will be performed for a customer in the community. The Weber County Clerk/Auditor-Elections office plans, prepares and executes the requirements for primary and general elections.

Last year, students in the course created a dynamic inventory system that allowed the elections office to track its equipment as it was used at polling sites and then returned to the Weber County Clerk/Auditor-Elections office. This inventory system assisted the office in keeping track of their equipment and also provided the office a more efficient way of complying with State audit requirements. Students were introduced to the world of county elections and were able to interview the election office staff to determine the needs of such a system.

The end-result was a definite win-win-win. It provided a project for students to develop a complex software system while connecting and teaching them about the work an elections office does. The elections office received a useful tool that will help the group fulfill their organization’s mission.  And the faculty member was able to achieve the learning objectives of the course by providing a hands on project for the students.

How did this project develop? The elections office admitted this is a project the group never would have considered proposing to a CEL course – it seemed too sophisticated and detailed. It developed through a simple networking event hosted by the CCEL where both the faculty member and the community partner had the opportunity to brainstorm ways of working with one another.  It also developed from out of the box thinking from both parties and a willingness to venture into unfamiliar territory on both ends to create a rich experience for students.

The CCEL office values opportunities for collaboration across disciplines and organizational missions. Our staff does this by hosting networking and idea sharing events through varying formats. Some examples of events are:

Speed Networking – WSU faculty and staff, and community partners get together in a fun and quick format with the goal of finding mutually beneficial collaborations. Speed networking’s format provides an opportunity for unusual pairings as community partners and faculty come together to discuss ideas and needs. Following the ‘speed networking’ portion the CCEL provides lunch for all to continue further conversation about potential collaboration.

Faculty/Community Partner Breakfasts – Before our volunteer fair each semester, faculty and participating community partners are invited to an informal breakfast to share ideas and network.

Campus Compact Retreats/Conferences – The CCEL invites CEL faculty and community partners to participate in statewide retreats and conferences. This is the perfect environment for learning, brainstorming and networking.

Although many campus/community collaborations carry similar learning outcomes with the goal of meeting missions, it is important to recognize the potential partnerships in different areas of study and mission. This may excite all involved. Collaborations such as these have the potential to; provide students with unique applicable experience that can be used to set them apart post degree, provide innovative opportunities for faculty that have been doing CEL for years, and are looking for a new spin to provide excitement and expand community partner’s capacity in ways they never imagined. 

Interested in learning more about how your institution can get involved with the NASPA Lead Initiative? Visit these quick links: