The University of Nebraska at Omaha is taking the first step to fill a new building intended to better connect it with the community.
An open forum for local organizations interested in renting space at UNO's new Community Engagement Center is at 2:30 p.m. Thursday.
Construction on the $24 million center began in October 2012 and is slated to be finished in the spring of 2014.
The 60,000-square-foot facility will house a public resource center, a service learning academy, a public service student leadership program and a staging area for community engagement initiatives. It is being built on the south side of the bell tower — making it easy for visitors to find it — in a former parking lot next to the College for Public Affairs and Community Service.
“It's basically a space for Omaha and surrounding area community leaders to come onto campus and work with the high-level people we have here, as well as students,” UNO spokesman Charley Reed said.
What is community engagement?
Sara Woods, assistant to the senior vice chancellor for community engagement, said it is when academics collaborate with members of the community hand-in-hand to address problems.
For example, a researcher might gather statistics about the influence of Type 2 diabetes in a community. Then, a community engagement researcher would work with people in the community to learn about food availability, lifestyle and habits, employments and wages, and other factors that might contribute to the incidence of diabetes. Students can take part in these tasks and activities outside of the classroom.
“This isn't about what they gain or we gain,” Woods said. “It's about mutual benefits. It's about what we share. You end up with this high-energy, innovative climate.”
In the center, everyone will collaborate on ways to better the community.
Woods said the number of community partners UNO accepts will depend on how much space each requires. Community partners can be nonprofit organizations, local governments, schools and others.
“We will try to take as many as we can,” she said. “The organizations come in and gain opportunities, our students gain opportunities for hands-on knowledge, and the research benefits the community. It's a win-win for everyone.”
Thursday's forum is in the College of Public Affairs and Community Service Collaborating Commons, Room 132D. RSVPs to email@example.com are required.