In an effort to broaden public engagement, the University of Michigan Center for Academic Innovation is launching a new project support program titled the Public Engagement Faculty Fellowship

The new project will provide an opportunity for faculty — regardless of discipline or prior public engagement experience — to work on projects aimed at engaging the public with the guidance and support of the CAI and other units across campus.The fellowship comes as part of President Mark Schlissel’s Faculty Public Engagement initiative, which he announced in 2017.

Rackham student Kimberly Ransom, who has done work with public engagement, noted the importance of work that involves people outside of academia. Ransom currently researches Black childhood in and around the formerly segregated Rosenwald Schools in rural Alabama. 

“I think public engagement is so important, particularly around scholarship, because it allows you to put research into action, and it allows you to use scholarship to bridge knowledge within academe with community knowledge,” Ransom said. 

In collaboration with the Pickensville Community Center, Ransom developed a project that will document and collect oral histories of former students in the Rosenwald Schools. She said the project’s public engagement initiatives will help foster similar work.

“My goal is to be a researcher, but to also give back to the community, to have that research help the community in some way, but never taking for granted that the community also has something to offer, that the community also has knowledge to bring to the table, to tackle issues in our community and cities, nation and world,” Ransom said. 

The CAI’s new program aims to help public engagement fellows develop public engagement skills, connect with a community of public engagement professionals at U-M and develop innovative projects to serve the public. For this pilot year, the program will support nine fellows across various disciplines and career stages. Applications are currently being accepted until Feb. 3. 

The fellowship experience will be split between a one-month studio experience in May and a project support phase. The studio experience will allow fellows to interact with public engagement experts across the University in workshop, one-on-one project consultations and mentorship from faculty. Fellows will also complete two short projects, including a written piece for a public audience and an experiment using digital technology. During this state, they will develop a project proposal. 

After they complete  the studio experience, fellows have the opportunity to apply for additional support in July. This Project Support phase will provide 18 months of funding up to $10,000 and in-kind support from on-campus units. According to Elyse Aurbach, CAI’s public engagement lead, the project kickoff will begin in September. 

Aurbach said the University’s mission to boost public engagement is not a new concept. Currently, several existing fellowship programs aim to expand public engagement activities. These include the Mellon Public Engagement and the Humanities Workshop, Center for Health & Research Transformation Policy Fellowship and the UMS Fellowship.

Additionally, Joe Cialdella, the program manager for Public Scholarship at the U-M Rackham Graduate School, discussed the Mellon Public Engagement and Humanities Workshop.

“The Rackham Graduate School has had a Program in Public Scholarship for many years that was designed to help graduate students who were interested in doing public engagement and community-based work and to help train graduate students to do that effectively and ethically and responsible ways,” Cialdella said. 

While the Mellon Fellowship is for Humanities faculty, the new CAI fellowship allows faculty from all disciplines to do this work. Aurbach said the Public Engagement Faculty Fellowship’s extensive support in implementing public engagement projects also distinguishes this fellowship program from others. She stressed the importance of fostering collaboration in public engagement.

“We’re also really interested in making sure that all of the different forms of public engagement that happen at the University get highlighted,” Aurbach said. “Part of our goal for the fellowship program is to not preference any one form of engagement as being more important, but rather to say that this constellation of really interesting opportunities add value in different ways, so let’s celebrate that and highlight that.”

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