UM System kicks off Engagement Week at UMSL

Mun Choi

University of Missouri System President Mun Choi speaks at an Engagement Week kickoff event at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. (Photos by August Jennewein)

University of Missouri System President Mun Choi highlighted the impact of the system’s four universities across the state Monday, during an Engagement Week kickoff event at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

More than 125 members of the UM system attended the gathering at the Millennium Student Center. It marked the start of a week’s worth of panels, discussions and events at the four universities.

Choi, UMSL Interim Chancellor Kristin Sobolik and other speakers such as Marshall Stewart, vice chancellor for extension and engagement at the University of Missouri–Columbia and the UM System’s chief engagement officer, focused on efforts by the system to address the everyday challenges of Missourians through extension programming and university engagement.

Stewart said he spent time in nearly every Missouri county talking to residents to identify those challenges. He found that there were three central issues for residents: economic opportunity, educational access and quality healthcare.

“That’s what this is about, how do you think about Missourians?” Stewart said. “How do you think about our constituents every day? Those are the three grand challenges that we have reset around as we think about our engagement work, our extension work, our outreach work.”

The commitment to these areas came after a gut check for the system around four years ago. Choi described it as a time when legislators, alumni and other stakeholders were questioning the values of the system.

“With the work that all of you have performed over the past several years, we changed the perception of the University of Missouri System,” he said. “It was very critical for us to engage with legislators who represent real people in Missouri.”

Choi pointed to the work of the UMSL Presidential Engagement Fellows in attendance, including Jon McGinnis, professor and chair of philosophy; Rachel Winograd, associate research professor at the Missouri Institute of Mental Health; and Lara Zwarun, associate professor of communication and media.

“Obviously, they are talented in their own areas of research, but they have an ability to communicate their ideas using approaches and terms that people can understand throughout the state of Missouri,” Choi said.

Their work represents the system’s mission to provide access and opportunity and to aid citizens throughout the state as a land-grant institution. Winograd’s work on opioid addiction has been a high-profile example as has the development of the system’s NextGen Precision Health Initiative.

She has developed new training methods for first responders, as well as educational programs to educate young people about the dangers of opioids.

“Her work is making a difference right here in St. Louis, where citizens face the highest death rates due to opioid addiction,” Choi said. “She’s taken that message, she’s taken the best practices to the rest of the state by partnering with colleagues at Missouri–Columbia, as well UMKC. And her work is going to have a defining impact for this community, and this is the type of impact that we want to have throughout the state of Missouri.”

While much of the system’s community engagement work is dependent upon universities reaching out through programs like Winograd’s, Stewart stressed the need for residents to easily “reach in” to institutions.

To accomplish that goal, he enlisted the help of Chris Fulcher, director of the Center for Applied Research and Engagement Systems at MU, to build high-tech solutions like All Things Missouri. The website collates thousands of streams of data from around the state so residents can look at their communities from all sides.

Stewart and Fulcher also unveiled the UM System Engagement Portal, an online resource that showcases engagement programs, resources and impact reports for each university.

Des Lee Professors

Interim Chancellor Kristin Sobolik (left) and University of Missouri System President Mun Choi (right) present the two newest members of the Des Lee Collaborative Vision with flame statues symbolizing knowledge and learning. Lara Kelland (center left) was named the E. Desmond Lee Endowed Professor in Museum Studies and Community History, and Miriam Jorge (center right) was named the Allen B. and Helen S. Shopmaker Endowed Professor in the College of Education.

Sobolik wrapped up the event by introducing two new professors who are part of the Des Lee Collaborative Vision. Miriam Jorge was named the Allen B. and Helen S. Shopmaker Endowed Professor in the College of Education and Lara Kelland was named the E. Desmond Lee Endowed Professor in Museum Studies and Community History. Professors chosen for the endowed positions are equally devoted to engagement in community outreach and development in relation to their fields of study.

The program is a primary example of UMSL’s commitment to community engagement and its legacy as a land-grant university, and the rest of the country is starting to pay attention to the results.

“The fact that U.S. News and World Report recently included UMSL is its inaugural ‘Top Performers for Social Mobility’ ranking – meaning that the university does an outstanding job of graduating students with extreme financial need – is just one indicator of our success as a community partner,” Sobolik said. “And with nearly 75,000 alumni living and working locally, UMSL’s diverse graduates are perhaps our greatest contribution to community engagement and economic development.”

For more information on Engagement Week visit, click here.

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