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This summer, the University of Pittsburgh launched a new office devoted to a familiar job: building community-university partnerships.
Vice Chancellor Lina Dostilio will oversee the new Office of Engagement and Community Affairs (ECA).
A first-generation college graduate, Dostilio believes “wholeheartedly, like to my toes” that higher education is a public good that should be about using the teaching and research mission of universities to “care with our communities about the future of our communities.” She has spent her career — including the last five years at Pitt — advancing this vision.
In her new role, she is committed to helping Pitt show up as the very best version of itself — an asset to the region and partner in its broader communities.
Pittwire asked Dostilio to talk about her new role, the new office and the University’s longstanding commitment to partnering with and prioritizing community.
What should people know about the newly created Office of Engagement and Community Affairs?
The Office of Engagement and Community Affairs builds on the community relations and neighborhood-based work that had been housed in the Office of Community and Governmental Relations. Chancellor Gallagher decided to restructure these areas to align this work more closely with the new strategic plan. As a standalone office, ECA is able to expand the vision of community engagement support to include community-engaged scholarship and regional impact, enhancing Pitt’s role as an anchor institution and continuing the critical work of the Community Engagement Centers.
Pitt now has a dedicated office and team that exclusively focuses on supporting community partnerships, relationships, impact and initiatives. An exciting area of growth is in working to support community-engaged scholarship. My team and I collaborated closely with the provost’s office and Post-Doctoral Scholars Association to pilot the Engaged Scholarship Development Initiative as part of the Year of Engagement. The ESDI is a yearlong program that provides faculty, graduate students and community-based partners with training and project development support. ECA also hosts the University’s annual engagement conference and works with a planning team spanning many schools and academic units.
Engagement in action
Map it out
The Office of Engagement and Community Affairs is Pitt’s front door for our communities, residents and partners. We serve as a thought partner, collaborator and a point of connection for schools, faculty and students looking to engage with partners across the region. For example, we are working closely with Pitt IT, the Swanson School of Engineering and School for Computing and Information to increase digital equity in the region through expanding broadband access, supporting digital literacy and workforce development opportunities. ECA helped Pitt IT network with partner organizations and leverage faulty-led research.
Of course, we will continue and deepen our neighborhood commitments. The Community Engagement Centers in Homewood and the Hill District along with our longstanding Oakland-based partnerships represent our longterm neighborhood commitments. These flagship centers represent a physical partnership with each community and provide educational programs, meeting spaces and support services through collaboration with residents and local organizations. Our Oakland work prioritizes pride of place and enables us to be a good neighbor and partner to those who live closest to our campus footprint.
How is the creation of your office a reflection of the changing role of community engagement at Pitt?
Pitt has a very rich, long history of being involved in our communities, and it’s taken different forms and functions. I think community-engaged work at Pitt has grown substantially from having been the work of select schools or amongst a few faculty to now becoming a hallmark of the University.
The Office of Engagement and Community Affairs champions how the University prioritizes and advances its community-engaged work. Pitt has embraced its role as an anchor institution, serving as an asset for the region. There’s been a concerted effort led by the Community Engagement Centers to prioritize more reciprocal, sustainable and accountable relationships that honor the expertise of everybody who's collaborating.
As Pitt’s engagement aspirations have matured, and the practices and the commitments of community engagement has grown, it is very important to have a point of connection and coordination. The Office of Engagement and Community Affairs was created to be that magnetic center — and to provide needed infrastructure and room to grow.
What defines successful community engagement?
Community engagement is most successful when we recognize the self-determination of our community partners. We must align Pitt’s expertise and resources with the expertise and resources of our collaborators so that when we work together, we can tangibly improve people’s lives and help all communities thrive. Community engagement has to make a difference that is tangible.
— Nichole Faina