It was wonderful to see so many of you at the State of the Campus address Tuesday, capping an exciting series of events for Indiana University Bloomington that included Monday’s celebration of the Center for Rural Engagement in West Baden. IU faculty and staff members, mayors, and civic leaders gathered at the stunning West Baden Springs Hotel on March 5 to celebrate the founding of the center, whose core mission is to connect the broad resources of IU Bloomington and its region through intensely collaborative initiatives.
At the celebration, we heard from Bill Brown, the inaugural executive director of the Center for Rural Engagement.
Bill knows the region well. He grew up in Dale, Indiana, and his mother, Grace Marshall Brown, was born and raised in French Lick. Bill attended many family reunions in the space that eventually became the exquisite hotel, and he recalls watching as the building deteriorated toward the brink of collapse over the years.
“The resurrection of this ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’ proves that when a community comes together and holds on to a dream, against all odds, anything is possible,” Bill said, standing in the gorgeously restored West Baden Springs Hotel. “When we all share a dream of thriving rural Hoosier communities, anything is possible.”
The goal of the Center for Rural Engagement – which is generously supported by Lilly Endowment Inc. – is for IU to become deeply connected with Indiana communities, working together on community-identified challenges and opportunities, and continuing to work together as projects expand and evolve.
This academic year, 550 IU students in 20 classes are working with Lawrence County communities on 15 projects identified by community stakeholders in one of the center’s pilot programs, Sustaining Hoosier Communities. Those projects include analyzing options for reuse of the Avoca Fish Hatchery, the creation of artistic city gateways for Bedford and Mitchell, and best practices to combat addiction.
In the 2018-19 academic year, the Sustaining Hoosier Communities project will move to Orange County, where the community has identified over 30 projects, such as affordable housing, a trail connecting Paoli and French Lick, and a strategic plan for tourism opportunities presented by the 2024 total solar eclipse (mark your calendars!).
Finally, on March 1, we celebrated the IU Corps initiative, another program affiliated with the Center for Rural Engagement. IU Corps is designed to connect our students with meaningful, hands-on engagement opportunities both local and global, while also offering a central point of connection for campus and community partners seeking to work with IU classes and individual students. This program builds on an already rich campus culture of engagement with communities surrounding campus, throughout the state and all over the world.
IU Bloomington currently offers more than 160 community engagement programs and over 200 classes that incorporate community service. More than 230 student groups on campus include a service component. While the impact of each program is significant, their cumulative effect is profound. From spring 2010 to spring 2018, our students gave more than 300,000 hours of community engagement through service-learning classes alone, providing over $7 million in services to a large number of communities.
That’s a small percentage of the total service, volunteerism and engagement that our faculty, staff and students take part in every day, from Indiana to India. There are so many wonderful community engagement stories that happen every day in and out of classrooms, through internships and research projects, and we want to hear them. Share your service or volunteer experience with IU Corps, or learn more about sharing stories through our mobile podcasting studio, the Stories from Home project.
Over time, I truly look forward to learning more about IU Bloomington’s collective impact through these programs. I leave you with another of Bill Brown’s inspiring comments from our Center for Rural Engagement kickoff event.
“‘Rural’ refers not just to a geographic place with a certain population, density and landscape,” he said. “For many of us, it refers to a state of mind, a way of being, a quality of life, and a unique sense of community, history, culture and place.”