By Julia Potter, Director of Educational Partnerships Development & Special University Projects, California State University, Northridge (CSUN)
This article is included as part of APLU’s Innovation and Economic Prosperity Universities Designation Perspectives Blog. Read other articles around strategies, programs, and impact of APLU’s IEP designees at www.APLU.org/IEPBlog.
California State University, Northridge (CSUN) earned APLU’s Innovation and Economic Prosperity (IEP) designation in Fall 2018. We actively sought the designation because we had high expectations about the value of the process and its anticipated outcomes.
For context, CSUN is a comprehensive public university located in the city of Los Angeles, in the San Fernando Valley area. The county of Los Angeles is America’s largest center for 4-year colleges and universities, with three leading research universities, five California State Universities, and 110 other colleges and universities. CSUN’s (nearly 40,000) students largely hail from the greater Los Angeles area, mirroring the ethnic, racial, cultural, and socioeconomic diversity of the region.
While we at CSUN had many reasons to participate in the IEP, these five reasons rise to the top of my list:
1. CSUN valued and desired a clearly defined process to honestly understand our strengths and weaknesses.
The questions raised and the evidence requested in the IEP process, as well as the framing and knowledge found in the Foundations for Strategies and Practice, moved us to an entirely new mindset of evaluating ourselves – our relevance, our distinctions, our priorities, our capacity and our resources – as a university with a mission to elevate our place, our students and our collective future.
We also understood and valued that joining the community of IEP universities gave us an infrastructure for peer learning and continuous improvement. The IEP submission that is peer reviewed is invaluable. The reviewers’ comments, in particular, provided exceptional feedback. Our participation in the IEP process also informed our successful application for the Carnegie Community Engaged University classification.
2. The IEP process stimulated a fresh approach to finding, organizing, and communicating our campus programs and research that support economic and community development.
The ad hoc committee that prepared the IEP submission found it necessary, and sometimes even challenging, to connect to different pockets of engagement activities on campus for analysis, documentation, and reporting.
In light of these experiences, CSUN’s Office of Community Engagement, with the leadership of President Dianne F. Harrison, began creating a platform of integration (now called the CSUN Community Exchange) that brings together resources, data, best practices and communication around all of CSUN’s forms of community engagement.
As the COVID-19 pandemic struck, this improved connectivity allowed the university to pivot to improve its offerings of virtual community engagement including service learning, virtual internships, community resources, and activities to support needed connections among community members.
For example, the Office of Community Engagement launched “Connect with Community” that links to COVID-19 resources offered to and by the university, the community, and various stakeholders. They have also responded to requests for specific needs – adding programming of various activities to provide human connections to those isolated in the quarantine.
3. The process and designation provided a validation from a trusted and revered presidents-led association that our programs and partnerships were indeed fueling innovation and driving economic prosperity.
This was critically important to campus leadership, but it was also important to our external partners. Those partners, who participated in the self-review process, took notice of the importance of this introspective study and quickly embraced that a university with this designation brought added strength to regional projects and funding opportunities.
When we were designated, these partners promoted it widely through their networks to both congratulate CSUN and message civic leaders that the region had an exemplary university to support community and economic development. Simply put, we have enhanced our reputation. Although we are not measuring this outcome, we see that there is an increased sense of pride across campus and with our alumni and community members.
4. Earning the designation has given us a tool in our tool box to quickly and effectively tell our story of a campus that invests in innovation and strategies that support student success and uplift our region.
This is effectively used when applying for grants, talking with philanthropists about funding our projects, and inspiring students such as those participating in our CSUN Innovation Incubator.
5. Receiving the IEP designation solidified our standing as a recognized leader in the complex and often challenging stewardship of the Los Angeles region.
Our university president, Dr. Dianne F. Harrison, is currently serving as chair of the Board of Governors for the LAEDC, the first academic leader elected to serve in that capacity. Clearly, this appointment indicates that regional business and civic leaders value the nexus between universities, specifically CSUN, and their communities for driving economic and community development.
Participating in the IEP has served CSUN well. Two years ago, when CSUN was preparing its application for the IEP designation, there was no way to foresee the pandemic and the largest civil rights movement in decades we now face. We could not anticipate how this IEP process would benefit the campus in its ability to connect, engage, and support community during these multiple crises.
As the campus contact for the IEP, I know first-hand how important it is that we are an IEP university. As the President of UEDA (University Economic Development Association), I am proud that APLU and UEDA have partnered to provide a pathway for colleges and universities that are not APLU members to participate in the IEP.
Join us and maximize your institution’s economic and societal impact!
Julia Potter is Director of Educational Partnership Development & Special University Projects at California State University, Northridge where she helped CSUN achieve APLU’s IEP designation. She is also President of the University Economic Development Association.
Inspired by what you’ve read here? APLU is now seeking presidents and chancellors to submit their letters of intent to engage their institution in APLU’s IEP Universities designation program. Intent letters are due by October 30. Learn more about how to get engaged at www.APLU.org/SeekIEP.