University plans to build on success of community engagement model
Tuesday, October 6, 2020

When Lindsay Mattock accepted a faculty position in the University of Iowa School of Library and Information Science, she was excited to get started on her teaching career and build syllabi with community service projects that would help her students connect theory with practice.

New name, same commitment

The UI Office of Community Engagement offers training, workshops, and best practices for faculty, staff, and students interested in community-engaged teaching and learning and community-engaged research. It also supports partnership development between faculty, staff, students, and community groups.

Learn more at

There was just one hitch: Mattock was new to the state and was unfamiliar with its communities and their needs. She didn’t know how best to make meaningful connections.

That’s when Mattock turned to Nick Benson and his colleagues working on campus outreach and engagement through the UI Office of the Provost. They were able to identify Iowa communities that needed help with archival projects, and Mattock’s students have since partnered with museums and libraries in Keokuk, Mason City, and Webster City to develop and digitize a variety of historical collections.

“Doing that hands-on work is a key way for students to see the impact of their scholarship, and as a faculty member, I’m always looking to improve my own pedagogy,” says Mattock, who was involved with community service as a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh. “Not only does Iowa’s engagement staff show you how to work with communities, they also teach you how to do so effectively by offering conferences and colloquia.”

Seeking to broaden that type of community engagement across campus, the UI Office of the Provost announced last fall that it would restructure its outreach and engagement office and shift its focus to engagement. The new Office of Community Engagement will act as a hub for best practices, resources, and trainings, with the goal of supporting, facilitating, and encouraging community engagement.

nicholas benson

“This university studies so many important issues, from public health to the arts, social justice, and civic and economic development, and I want to empower the faculty and students studying these issues to be able to work with communities to effect change.”

—Nick Benson, executive director of the UI Office of Community Engagement

Benson, formerly the executive director of the UI Office of Outreach and Engagement, oversees the new office. He says this work has never been more important to addressing challenges and opportunities in the world.

“Community engagement focuses on building mutually beneficial partnerships between faculty, staff, students, and community,” Benson says. “As COVID-19 has demonstrated, we face many challenges that require us all to work together. This university studies so many important issues, from public health to the arts, social justice, and civic and economic development, and I want to empower the faculty and students studying these issues to be able to work with communities to effect change. Our office looks forward to being a strong partner to campus and community in these efforts.”

Complementing the new name is an updated website, at, which provides a variety of resources designed to help faculty members and graduate students incorporate community engagement into their classes, a practice Benson says leads to high-impact learning experiences for students. Research shows that students who participate in courses with community engagement have higher grade-point averages and are more likely to stay in school, Benson says.

“Students want to effect change, and helping faculty use community engagement is a way to teach to the issues students care about,” he says. “We want to expand and enhance the quantity and quality of these course offerings.”

The changes follow a yearlong review of the Office of Outreach and Engagement initiated in 2018 by then-Provost Sue Curry. A recommendation from the review, which was conducted by a committee of faculty, staff, and students, was to focus more on engagement and move outreach to colleges and departments. In fall 2019, the provost’s office announced it would restructure the office, noting that the outreach programming had matured to the point where it could successfully transition to the colleges while maintaining coordination from the provost’s office.

Interim Provost Kevin Kregel says community engagement is a university priority.

“I look forward to working with Nick as the university continues its commitment to engagement as a core component of our mission and an institutional priority,” Kregel says. “In addition to his efforts related to engagement, Nick has been an invaluable contributor to the Path Forward Engagement Work Group. He is deeply committed to our effort to expand engagement with Iowa communities and to integrate engagement more deeply into our research, teaching, and service activities.”

Teresa Mangum, professor in the departments of Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies and English and co-chair of the Path Forward Engagement Work Group, says the office’s emphasis on community engagement is a welcome development.

“Our campus and community, like the rest of the world, need to work together to meet a growing number of challenges—from COVID to the Black Lives Matter call for justice and equity to economic and environmental issues,” says Mangum, who directs the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies and is a senior faculty affiliate with the UI Public Policy Center. “Our Path Forward work group is hearing from faculty, staff, and students who want to use their expertise to help. The Office of Community Engagement’s plans for training and coordination will help us put that will to work.”