BTU—Partnerships at Work for Greater Baltimore celebrates three years of growth
On April 24, Towson University will host the twelfth annual BTU Partnerships Showcase, an event that brings hundreds of current and prospective partners from across business, government, non-profit, and education sectors to campus to explore and expand partnerships.
This year’s event will also serve as a milestone moment for BTU—Partnerships at Work for Greater Baltimore.
It was at the event three years ago on April 26, 2016, that President Kim Schatzel announced BTU as a new presidential priority. In her remarks, Schatzel says “the priority was created to retell the story of the impact TU is having on Greater Baltimore as well as to enhance our abilities to further our impact in five key areas of focus we are already committed to.”
Bobbie Laur ‘04, associate vice president for outreach, says the BTU priority has given greater purpose and presence to the community engaged work that’s been taking place across the state for decades.
“Having partnerships elevated to a presidential priority has created an opportunity to extend TU’s impact into the community as an anchor institution,” says Laur. “As President Schatzel said three years ago, BTU is about championing, resourcing, and scaling the incredible partnerships and community engaged projects being led by our faculty, staff and students.”
As of spring 2019, TU faculty, students, and staff are leading over 300-plus active engagements with hundreds of BTU network partners. While most engagements are within Greater Baltimore, TU has partnerships in every county across the state.
From day one, tracking the growing number of partnerships has been a primary goal of BTU. Through collaboration with the Office of Technology Services, the BTU database was developed and has become the foundation for the university’s efforts to connect resources and assess the work. The database provides robust reporting and dashboard tools to manage partnerships and align work across campus.
The BTU Database has been presented at multiple national meetings, including the Salesforce Higher Ed Summit, Engaged Scholarship Conference, and the Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities Conference. “Through these presentations, the BTU Database has been recognized as a national model for supporting the collection and sharing of data related to community engagement,” notes Laur.
During the past three years, a rewards and recognition system has also been developed to better highlight TU’s community partners and to champion community-engaged work. In 2018, the first BTU Partnership Awards were held, which honored three long-standing partnerships that have impacted thousands of Marylanders.
The awards have been transformational for both the TU recipients as well as their community partners—last year’s award winners have greatly expanded their engagements with TU and have attracted new opportunities and stakeholders. The 2019 BTU Partnership Awards will be announced in mid-April.
Another goal of the BTU presidential priority is to integrate the outcomes of partnerships into faculty scholarship. For BTU Faculty Director Matthew Durington, Ph.D., professor of anthropology, one of the most valuable contributions of BTU for faculty is that it provides multiple layers of support for the strong community engagement work occurring between TU faculty and their collaborators throughout Greater Baltimore.
One of those BTU support structures is through funding requests that helps faculty and staff to scale, sustain, and bring greater visibility to their partnership work.
“We have moved many support mechanisms for faculty community engagement support to request tiers in the areas of transportation, enrichment, and national visibility, allowing community-engaged work to be more nimble and impactful,” said Durington.
Priority and emerging investment projects—those deemed to have significant impact for TU and the community—receive wrap-around services that bring more visibility to partnerships. “These partnerships benefit from the strategic, communication, and planning skill sets found across the university that were previously in siloes, but now work productively through the BTU framework to create impact with our collaborators,” added Durington.
The idea of partnerships is not new at Towson University. As an anchor institution, with roots as a state normal school, TU has always prioritized working in collaboration to meet student needs and those of the region through teaching, research, and outreach.
According to Santiago Solis, associate vice president for student affairs, Towson University’s mission would be incomplete if students did not have meaningful opportunities to engage with and learn from diverse individuals and groups outside campus.
“Partnerships create intentional and authentic learning experiences for students and are an investment in our collective future as community members of Greater Baltimore,” said Solis.
“Community engagement is an integral part of becoming active citizens and instilling a strong sense of civic responsibility. Towson University values community engagement because students have an opportunity to make purposeful contributions to surrounding communities while also practicing what they learn in the classroom. Towson University is fortunate that the Greater Baltimore region offers many possibilities for students to participate in transformative experiences,” notes Solis.
In 2018, Towson University was recognized by Campus Compact Mid-Atlantic three times—the most of any university in the association—for its civic and community engagement efforts, including the BTU priority. Among the recognitions TU received was the Engaged Campus Award, which recognizes a college or university ‘with exemplary commitment to being a community-engaged campus and actively seeking to fulfill the public purposes of higher education.’
However, recognitions for TU’s commitment to community engagement go back more than a decade. TU is one of just three Maryland institutions with a Community Engagement Classification from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The university was first awarded the classification in 2008 and received a renewal in 2015, making it one of just 361 campuses nationwide to hold the coveted title.
While great progress has been made to advance the BTU presidential priority, some work is just beginning.
“Today, Towson University is building on the momentum from the last three years and is working to provide a ‘front door’ for the campus that will make TU even more accessible to our community partners and better connect them to the resources available via BTU,” says Laur.
This story is one of several related to President Kim Schatzel’s priorities for Towson University: TU Matters to Maryland & BTU-Partnerships at Work for Greater Baltimore.