Outreach & Engagement Council
Welcome to Celebrating Engagement!
The mission of the MSU Outreach and Engagement Council is to strategically champion engagement at MSU through outreach, leadership, and service to fulfill the land-grant mission. The Council highlights university-community partnerships that embody the spirit of engagement: a mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity. This two-way interaction is a core value of our land-grant institution, and we honor our employees, students and partners who embrace this ideal. Learn more at montana.edu/outreachengagementcouncil
Do you have a suggestion for a Celebrating Engagement partnership we should highlight? Please send your ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
MSU student Brian Spencer (right) visits with senior AJ Hancock.
MSU students Morgan Egbert, left, and Brian Spencer, second from right, teamed up with Bozeman seniors Bernice De Haas and A.J. Hancock for the writing project "Tuesdays with Morrie."
Davis presented the Tuesdays with Morrie project at the Engagement Scholarship Consortium annual meeting in Lubbock, Texas, in October. She has also written about the project for Montana Professor and other publications.
Empowered Engagement for First Year Writing Students
Big things are happening in Wibaux County, and many of the area''s economic development successes have roots in partnerships forged between the MSU Extension Office and community organizations.
What happens when an MSU writing student is partnered with an elderly Bozeman citizen for eight weeks in an interview project? All sorts of astonishing things! Jill Davis, an adjunct instructor in the Department of English, introduced the "Tuesdays with Morrie Project" interview project to her WRIT 101 students. The students had just completed reading Mitch Albom's book Tuesdays with Morrie about Albom's time spent with 78-year-old Morrie Schwartz, a retired Brandeis University sociology professor who was dying from Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS).
Students were partnered with an elderly Bozeman citizen for eight weeks. Students used the writing skills they learned in class to make a difference in someone's life: they spent time listening to another's story and gifting the partner's family with an essay. What began four years ago as an oral history interview endeavor has progressed into meaningful intergenerational conversations packed with lively discussion.
"These interview projects provide a 'win-win' experience for both partners," said Davis. "Students raise the bar on their writing by writing for a "real world" audience while participating in meaningful civic engagement experiences." Davis added that students not only evaluate their writing practices and improvement but reflect on their growth as stewards and participants of a larger discursive community. "These interview projects ultimately help students gain the ability to suspend judgment, demonstrate compassion, and enter into an empathic relationship with "other," she added.
Because reminiscence is common at the end of life, the participating seniors find it helpful to reflect on their lives with an attentive, thoughtful listener, said Davis. Students find it beneficial to slow down and share the fabric of their busy lives with an elder who cares and offers sage counsel. The descriptive narratives produced by students are seen as valuable documents for the interviewee's family. Davis said that recently, a segment of a student essay was read at his senior partner's memorial service. "It is heartwarming to witness the bonds that form from these partnerships and the challenges both face concerning preconceived biases," she said.
Davis said qualitative analysis confirms the project's intergenerational focus shifts biases and misleading perceptions held by both sets of participants, thus effectively transforming both partners in the true sense of engagement.
For many years, the Wibaux County Extension Office has partnered with local organizations to offer a community health fair offering low-cost medical tests. "The Wibaux County Health Fair probably saved my life," said one participant.
Food Bank volunteers Don Schaaf and Jodi Smith check out the new freezer they helped stock after it was delivered to the Wibaux Senior Citizens Center.
Extension Agent Dave Bertelsen was honored with the 2013 Provost's Excellence in Outreach Award for his role in developing and strengthening these engagement partnerships.
Wibaux County Extension partnerships strengthen community
Big things are happening in Wibaux County, and many of the area's economic development successes have roots in partnerships forged between the MSU Extension Office and community organizations.
One of biggest success stories for this far-eastern Montana county is creation of the Wibaux Endowment Foundation. This project allows residents to contribute to a fund that disperses grants for community improvement projects. The funds have supported everything from youth sports teams to ambulance services to a school reunion. Wibaux County's MSU Extension agent, Dave Bertelsen, serves on the foundation's board and works with community members to organize meetings, set fund-raising goals and liaise with the Montana Community Fund. The strong partnership between university employees and community leaders and residents has helped Wibaux plan for its future and maximize the use of local resources to solve local problems.
Another decades-long success story is the Wibaux Health Fair, an annual event that serves 600 people (the entire county has just 1,000!) with low-cost medical tests and information about preventative health. Participants say the health fair has saved them thousands of dollars in healthcare costs, and may have even saved the lives of those who were referred to primary care physicians after tests at the event revealed dangerous medical conditions.
The health fair is a collaboration between MSU Extension, the Wibaux County Health Department and other organizations.