UNI to celebrate community engagement



Gassman has been working toward community engagement with UNI for three years.

SOFIA LEGASPI, Campus Life Editor | [email protected]

The work of UNI and Cedar Falls community members is being celebrated on Thursday, April 19, during the First Annual Community Engagement Celebration Day.

Free and with no RSVP required, the event runs from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m in the Maucker Union Ballroom.

“One of the really important parts about community engagement work is that you schedule time for celebration — you recognize the efforts of students, of faculty, of staff, of community partners and the development of students and the change in the community,” said Julianne Gassman, director of community engagement.

Gassman has been doing community engagement work at UNI for over three years. She and her team have been planning this event for about 10 months.

“We’ve been doing community engagement work across this campus for decades; it’s rooted in the history of what makes UNI excellent,” Gassman said. “But we’ve never said as a community, as a whole, let’s pause and celebrate this work.”

The day of celebration will showcase 71 different projects entered in eight different categories, ranging from international service initiatives to local research projects.

Categories are divided by the origin of each project: coursework, student organizations, community research, and individual students and staff or faculty commitment to service. Two categories, social justice and sustainability and environmental awareness, are theme-based. There will also be a people’s choice award, decided by attendees’ votes.

“We originally expected and would [have been] happy with about 40 projects being showcased, and we’re at 71,” Gassman said. “So we are just overwhelmed with the excitement across campus for people to share their work.”

The first two hours of the day are a time for spectators and judges to browse through the different projects.

“There are about 45 judges,” Gassman said. “We reached out to members in our community and across campus.”

Prominent figures present will include the mayor of Cedar Falls, the superintendent of the Cedar Falls school district, members of the UNI administration and all of UNI’s college deans.

Projects by student organizations range from Puerto Rico hurricane relief and Art for El Salvador to a Healthy Kids Day partnership with the YMCA. Research projects include playground safety, immigrant experiences with Waterloo housing and youth in the community.

Gassman emphasized the all-inclusive nature of the celebration.

“This is not about saying, that’s worthy of showcasing and celebration, but that isn’t — but to really lift up all sorts of varieties of projects, from individuals to groups, from students to faculty and staff,” Gassman said.

For projects that do not fit into any other categories, students were able to enter in the individual category. One such project is Cedar Valley’s Little Free Pantries — similar to the Little Free Library initiative — where people can take or donate food items in designated areas around their communities.

The last hour of Community Engagement Celebration Day features a program. In addition to revealing winners in each project category, the program will include a performance by the Spectrum Project and the release of the Office of Community Engagement’s civic action plan.

Finally, recipients of the Veridian Credit Union Community Engagement Fellowship Grant and the Koob Fund for Student Community Engagement will be recognized.

Encouraging students to attend, Gassman said: “Come and think about how you can be engaged and how you can take an active role in your learning and development,” Gassman said. “Research indicates that all of the ways we’re showcasing work on Thursday is high-impact, high quality, and student learning is significantly better in these scenarios than in a traditional lecture classroom style.”