IU Center for Rural Engagement's Sustaining Hoosier Communities initiative recognized nationally

The Indiana University Center for Rural Engagement's Sustaining Hoosier Communities initiative was honored with the inaugural Outstanding Program of the Year award by the Educational Partnerships for Innovation in Communities Network, known as EPIC-N, during the network's eighth annual conference Monday in Tampa, Florida.

IU Design students work on project for an art shop in PaoliView print quality image
Students from the IU School of Art, Architecture + Design develop interior and exterior designs for the Black Vulture Project, an art shop, studio, gallery and retail space in Paoli, Indiana. Photo by Jeni Waters, Indiana University

Sustaining Hoosier Communities launched in 2017 in Lawrence County, Indiana, to address 14 community-identified projects through partnerships with IU Bloomington faculty and students, community leaders, residents and local organizations. The initiative has doubled its impact this year with 28 projects in Orange County, quickly becoming one of the largest rural engagements of its kind in the United States. More than 850 students have participated in course-based projects in rural communities during the first two years of the program.

The EPIC-N Outstanding Program of the Year award recognizes programs demonstrating exceptional partnerships, mutually beneficial and supported, between higher education, community, government and business leaders. Award winners serve as exemplars of different aspects of program management and invest in their communities, students and colleagues across the network. They work on critical issues as well as increase public awareness and support for higher education and local partnerships.

Projects launched through Sustaining Hoosier Communities are designed to build community capacity and address needs and opportunities in health and wellness, resilience, and quality of place. The initiative harnesses the EPIC-N 'EPIC Model' and has adapted it to suit rural communities.

"We are grateful to EPIC-N, not only for this recognition of the dedication to collaboration shown by communities and Indiana University's faculty, students and staff, but also for its support of an impactful and adaptive model for university-community teaching engagement that has inspired meaningful work and transformation around the globe," said Kerry Thomson, executive director of the IU Center for Rural Engagement.

Recent projects include a mental health and addictions community survey by the School of Social Work that has expanded to help the state combat the opioid epidemic; a rural nursing initiative that engages School of Nursing students in more than 450 rural home health visits with patients with chronic illnesses; and art and design projects that reactivate community spaces and improve quality of place.

IU nursing students talk with a nurse in Paoli, IndianaView print quality image
IU nursing students speak with community nurses in Paoli as part of the rural nursing initiative. Photo by Jeni Waters, Indiana University

Greene County is slated to join the program in the 2019-20 academic year. Faculty and community residents are exploring possible partnerships across health, business, recreation and environmental resilience and the arts.

Indiana University Bloomington will host the EPIC-N annual conference in April 2020 as part of the IU Bicentennial conference sponsorship initiative. Attendees will learn more about the rural application of the university-community engagement model and visit communities that have partnered with IU.

The IU Center for Rural Engagement improves the lives of Hoosiers through collaborative initiatives that discover and deploy scalable and flexible solutions to common challenges facing rural communities. Working in full-spectrum community innovation through research, community-engaged teaching and student service, the center builds vision, harnesses assets and cultivates sustainable leadership structures within the communities with which it engages to ensure long-term success.

EPIC-N is a nonprofit association with members all over the world. EPIC-N and its members unite communities with the untapped potential of universities to exponentially improve conditions for human flourishing. EPIC-N's ambition is to improve the quality of life and social wealth of all involved, whether by expanding social or economic inclusion, environmental sustainability or democratic self-government.

Kyla Cox Deckard is director of communications for the IU Center for Rural Engagement.