U community celebrates Public Engagement Day

Speakers and workshops explained the importance of student involvement.

Alex Robinson

Education and human development sophomore Tyler Berres lives in his younger sister’s room beneath a ceiling of glow-in-the-dark stars because he spends so much time trying to balance school, work and most importantly, community work.

Berres participated in the University’s first Public Engagement Day on Wednesday. Students, faculty and community members brainstormed ways the University can actively participate in the community.

The day consisted of workshops and speakers that explained the importance of academics and students working in the community.

Elder Atum Azzahir, the executive director of the Powderhorn Phillips Cultural Wellness Center, was the keynote speaker. The center organizes people into groups that face similar struggles, and it also helps people define their culture, she said.

“We define culture in a way that people can actually go away with something in their hand that’s tangible that says that ‘I have culture,’ ” Azzahir said.

During her speech, she said that the community is a good source of knowledge and it’s important for academics not to forget about that source.

“The community, because of the partnering with the University in knowledge production, is symbolic of a homecoming of their people who are scholars, leaders and teachers,” Azzahir said.

Academic research should have never been separated from the community, she said.

“The land-grant University belongs to the community,” Azzahir said.

University students with extensive volunteer work also spoke about their perspectives on public engagement.

The student panel shared ideas focusing on how the University could help students get out into the community.

Sociology and global studies senior Shukri Warsame tutored at a community center to help teach immigrants read and write.

“Going out into the community and doing public engagement really helped enrich my college experience,” she said.

Like Berres, several students said that they had to make sacrifices to work in the community.

Strategic communications senior Tracy Blackmon said she comes to campus every day at 8 a.m., volunteers and leaves at midnight.

Blackmon has tutored students at Common Bond Community and has worked with Phillips Community Television and Minneapolis K-12 Outreach.

“I don’t have a life anymore, and that’s OK,” she said. “If I can help a 16-year-old girl that should be at an 11th grade reading level and is at a second grade reading level, if I can sit down with her and help her read, then it’s worth it.”

The University should also make some sacrifices to help the community, Berres said.

“The U of M, I think, is caught in trying to build itself up and become a really great research university and has maybe cut its ties with the community,” Berres said.

“My advice for (University President) Mr. (Bob) Bruininks is that we want to be a really great research university, but we can be a really great community university,” he said.