The Maneater

Presidential Engagement Fellows to spread UM system research throughout the state

“The plan is to have faculty who are already good at communicating with the public to be out there, but not just in local areas across the entire state,” Angela Speck, professor and director at the MU Department of Physics and Astronomy, said. “Between all of the engagement fellows, we’ll cover every county in the state.”

On Feb. 28, the UM system introduced its first class of Presidential Engagement Fellows on Twitter. Vice Chancellor Marshall Stewart of MU Extension and Engagement led the program, which seeks to encourage engagement and instill pride within local communities through sharing UM system research and achievements.

“This is the first time [the Presidential Engagement Fellows program] has been done,” said Angela Speck, professor and director at the MU Department of Physics and Astronomy. “The plan is to have faculty who are already good at communicating with the public to be out there, but not just in local areas across the entire state. Between all of the engagement fellows, we’ll cover every county in the state.”

Speck is one of six MU faculty members chosen as fellows for the upcoming academic year, though there are 15 fellows in total from the entire UM system. She said this program will address the divide between Missourians and the university.

“The goal is to improve the relationship the university and the state,” she said. “We’re a land grant university. It’s our job to serve the state, and a lot of times people don’t know about all the things the university does.”

James Cook, another MU engagement fellow, expressed similar sentiments.

“We need everyone in the state to be proud of and be engaged in the University of Missouri system,” Cook said. “Obviously, [the Presidential Engagement Fellows program] is not just here in Columbia. It’s for the whole system. This is a system-wide vision and a system-wide approach, and I think that’s critical.”

Cook is director of the MU Thompson Laboratory for Regenerative Orthopaedics and Mizzou BioJoint Center. When UM System President Mun Choi reached out to him in February about the initiative, he simply couldn’t refuse.

“It was so easy to say yes to his invitation because President Choi’s vision is big, which is great. It’s what we need,” Cook said. “It involves engaging people. We’re not an ivory tower of academia. [The university] depend[s] on everyone in the state to make the university as great as it can be.”

All fellows are required to attend a five-hour training session and an orientation. They also have regular meetings to discuss engagement and communication strategies, as well as to learn more about each other’s research.

“The other cool part was to get to meet the other presidential fellows. It gives you a lot of pride in MU,” Cook said. “When we go out and talk about what we’re doing at MU, we can also wave the entire banner and talk about what amazing things are going on in all these other areas that are included in this mission.”

The focus may be on connecting faculty with local communities, but involving students in university research and engagement has aided in the program’s establishment.

“What I’ve learned is that students are the engine for all of this,” Cook said. “All of the presidential fellows have a passion for students. I think involving students is what truly makes it possible, and I know all the presidential fellows will highlight what the students are doing. I certainly will.”

Speck said that although this program emphasizes faculty engagement, it could further community engagement programs for students as well. If students are interested in outreach initiatives, Presidential Engagement Fellows could help highlight such opportunities.

“I personally have a lot of students involved in outreach events, so if students want to be involved I think that that's something we can do,” she said. “There are programs out there that already exist for students to be involved with reaching out to the public. Maybe [the Presidential Engagement Fellows program] will raise the profile of some of those.”

Those interested in requesting a talk from an engagement fellow may submit a Presidential Engagement Fellows Speaking Request Form on the UM system website. These talks are fiscally covered by the program itself, so they come at no cost to the community.

Edited by Morgan Smith | mosmith@themaneater.com

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