From the University to the Community: Fostering an Inclusive Climate Around Community Engagement

Kara Finnigan headshot photo
The University of Rochester is committed to partnering with local citizens and organizations to improve the well-being of the greater Rochester community. Now, Warner School faculty member Kara Finnigan is poised to make her mark in facilitating a more equitable and inclusive climate at the University around the advancement of community engagement efforts.
Recently, Finnigan, a professor of education policy and leadership, won an Inclusive Climate Leadership (ICL) Fellowship from the University. She is using this opportunity to create a process to measure community perceptions of the University and to develop resources related to competencies for equity-minded, community-engaged scholars to assist University faculty and staff embarking on community-engaged projects.
New in 2018, the Provost’s Office and the Office for Faculty Development and Diversity announced the Inclusive Climate Leadership Fellowship Program aimed at building and embracing a diverse community. It is a competitive two-year fellowship open to all university staff and faculty who are passionate about incorporating diversity and inclusion into their careers at the University. In this program, ICL fellows conduct an action project designed to create sustainable change that facilitates a more inclusive climate in the university, and will also acquire new skills in diversity, inclusion, and leadership.
As part of her fellowship, Finnigan conducted interviews in spring/summer 2019 with community members to gain perspectives from the community on how they perceive the University’s community engaged work. She is also developing resources that will help better prepare faculty for engaging the community based on the results of the interviews. Finnigan’s fellowship and her interaction with the community will lead to a framework for how to ensure community engagement aligns with broader diversity and equity goals at the University.
The first cohort of fellows, including Finnigan and six other members of the University community whom she started with, began work on their projects on July 1, 2018. Their projects reach multiple constituents and areas of the University. The fellows will share updates on their projects at the University’s 11th Annual Diversity Conference on March 27, from 1:45 to 3:15 p.m., during a breakout session titled “Inclusive Climate Leadership Fellows: Transforming Ideas into Action.” The session will feature five-minute, TED-like talks from the fellows whose individual action projects contribute to sustainable change that facilitates a more equitable and inclusive environment in the university.
Carnegie Foundation logo Community engagement is a core feature of the University of Rochester’s mission and education. Earlier this year, the University earned its first Community Engagement Classification from Carnegie Foundation. It is among 119 colleges and universities in the United States to receive 2020 Carnegie Community Engagement Classification, an elective designation that indicates institutional commitment to community engagement. Rochester is now one of 359 nationwide to hold the distinction. The process of completing the University’s application began under the leadership of recent University President Richard Feldman and was carried out by a workgroup of faculty and staff across the University. Finnigan, a member of the workgroup, was involved in the extensive Carnegie application process.
Upon receipt of the Carnegie designation, University President Sarah Mangelsdorf appointed Mercedes Ramírez Fernández, vice president for equity and inclusion, and Peter Robinson, vice president for government and community relations, to co-chair a University-wide steering committee to coordinate community engagement efforts across the institution, and Finnigan has been invited to continue this work on a sub-committee focused on academic community engagement. The charge for the group is to advance the recommendations from the Carnegie process with the aim to deepen the University’s institutional engagement with the community in support of the academic mission of the University.
Two other ICL fellows with ties to the Warner School include: doctoral student Precious Bedell, research II coordinator in the Department of Psychiatry at the Med Center; and alumna Caroline Nestro ‘18W (PhD), associate director in the Office of Mental Health Promotion at the Medical Center. Learn more about the ICL fellows and their projects.
Media Contact: Theresa Danylak
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Tags: Carnegie Foundation, community engagement, Inclusive Climate Leadership Fellowship, Kara Finnigan