Community Engaged Scholarship Forum thinks big for online event


This year’s Community Engaged Scholarship Forum has more of everything — a larger steering committee, more national speakers, more workshops and big ideas to tackle. The one thing it doesn’t have is an in-person venue.

“Thinking about a hook for a virtual event is tough, because we know Zoom fatigue is real and online event fatigue is real,” said Jamie Ducar, director of Community Engagement for Pitt’s Office of Community and Government Relations. “We really wanted to capitalize around some big picture issues that would really help to draw people in.”

For this its third year, the forum, titled “Progress Through Partnerships: Advancing Community Resilience,” will focus on repairing our social fabric, criminal justice and health equity. The workshops are arranged so that attendees can follow a theme through the day or can switch around. The event is sponsored by the Office of the Senior Vice Chancellor for Engagement Kathy Humphrey.

Ducar and Julia Spears, associate vice provost for Academic Innovation, hope to attract people from Pitt, Pittsburgh and beyond. The day of events doesn’t start until 11 a.m. and goes to 8 p.m., so that people who work during the day or who are in other time zones can participate. Find the full schedule and registration information here.

A panel of community engagement experts from around the country is one of the highlights of the day. Panelists include: Tania Mitchell, associate professor, College of Education and Human Development, University of Minnesota; Chris Nayve, associate vice president for Community Engagement & Anchor Initiatives, Mulvaney Center for Community, Awareness and Social Action, University of San Diego; and Michelle Fine, City University of New York, Public Science Project. Lina Dostilio, Pitt’s associate vice chancellor for Community Engagement, will moderate the discussion on “National Perspectives on Critical and Liberatory Practices in Community Engagement.”

“That’s just an exciting opportunity to get beyond our Pittsburgh bubble and see what does it really mean to take on critical practice right now,” Ducar said. “And to be able to incorporate social justice in a meaningful way to a large research university.”

Someone from Pitt will moderate each of the keynote events. Valerie Kinloch, dean of the School of Education, will talk with Frederick Riley, executive director, Weave: The Social Fabric Project, on “Repairing Our Social Fabric”; while Chancellor Emeritus Mark Nordenberg and Douglas Wood, director of the Aspen Institute’s Criminal Justice Reform Initiative, will discuss “Criminal Justice Reform Ecosystems.”

Spears said there are limitations when connecting in a digital space, but they are working hard to overcome those. Accel Events will allow them to keep everything in one spot and to archive the workshops on the website so people can check out those they missed.

Because one of the main purposes of this annual forum is to connect people, the software allows for lounges “where people will be able to video chat, will be able to kind of connect in a face-to-face way,” Spears said. “People can upload documents and you can text chat, you can privately connect with people. You can have a pretty robust profile if you want that links back to websites. I hope that this is kind of a jumping off point to more conversations, and we know that last year’s forum did lead to some new partnerships and to some new connections.”

The day also is a celebration and a way to raise awareness about Pitt’s “community engagement portfolio of work and there’s so much,” Spears said. “It’s just really to help people understand that the door is always open and that they are always welcome to join in this ongoing evolving conversation around how the University of Pittsburgh is involved in the community surrounding it.”

The Partnerships of Distinction awards will be given to groups that have joined with people or groups at Pitt and are exemplars of community engagement. Up to five awardees will receive $2,000 grants to support partnership activities. Ducar and Spears said the winners have been chosen but won’t be revealed until the day of the forum. Videos are being created to highlight the work of these groups.

Two other awards also will be presented to individuals:

Collaboration Champion Award: Yvette Moore, director of the Pitt EXCEL program, an undergraduate diversity program within the Swanson School Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh. This award is given to a member of the Pitt community or a community partner who has made significant contributions to the University’s culture of collaboration,

Tracy Soska and John Wilds Outreach and Engagement Leadership Award: David Sanchez, assistant professor in the Swanson School of Engineering’s Civil & Environmental Engineering department and assistant director for the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation. Sanchez has built up Pitt Hydroponics in Homewood, founded Constellation Energy Inventor labs for K-12 students, and re-created the Mascaro Center’s Teach the Teacher sustainability program for science educators in the region. This award honors a faculty member or staff engagement professional who serves Pitt through their outstanding dedication to University-community connections. 

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at or 724-244-4042.


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