An idea to bring a small group of William & Mary faculty together to share, learn and collaborate using what they know, teach, research and care about has started off with transformative connections.

The Community-Engaged Faculty Accelerator is a program of the Presidential Council for Community Partnerships. The first five faculty members participated in the accelerator for 10 weeks this spring and recently presented their projects during the Office of Community Engagement’s annual Community Partnerships Workshop June 8 at Sadler Center.

Faculty members who are already interested in connecting with the larger community brought their individual expertise and a project to focus on. They formed ongoing partnerships and advanced one another’s work.

“I hope that this demonstrated yet another way that getting people together who share values and have overlapping goals can lead to things that we couldn’t have even anticipated 12 weeks ago when this cohort just began,” said Melody Porter, director of community engagement and chair of the council.

Service is one of William & Mary’s core values, and the university works to embody it by engaging with “individuals and communities both near and far, devoting our knowledge, skills, and time to serving the greater good.” In the past year, more than 1,000 students and other W&M community members participated in more than 9,400 hours of community and civic engagement opportunities, according to Porter.

The accelerator uses a model of cohort mentoring and project development to help participating faculty fulfill its charge of expanding community-partnered teaching, learning and scholarship, as well as developing relationships to expand individual networks and offer ongoing support. Faculty are asked to complete the program equipped with tools to develop one actionable idea to accelerate their community-engaged work in the coming year. 

Collaboration in action

Two professors in different departments combined their ongoing research in data science and public health and are working to find the solution to a real-world problem.

Carrie Dolan, associate professor of kinesiology, and Haipeng Chen, assistant professor of data science, merged their backgrounds in healthcare to create a research proposal to submit to the National Science Foundation. The project would use data science techniques to get vaccinations to nomadic people in rural Kenya. Data is one of the cornerstone initiatives of W&M’s Vision 2026 strategic plan.

“We identified some very close mutual interests in terms of using data and decision-making intelligence to help with global health resource allocation,” Chen said. “So this is where we’re aiming to help with the vaccine allocation program in the country of Kenya.”

Dolan said she learned something new from every member of the cohort that she will carry forward into her teaching and research, including the ability to call on and partner with them in the future.

“It was incredibly important to me because it held not only time, but also space to be able to do things differently when it comes to integrating meaningful partnerships with communities,” Dolan said. “And that’s incredibly important not only in my teaching, but also my research.”

Catherine Brix, assistant teaching professor of Hispanic studies, used the accelerator to brainstorm ways to involve her students in her community textile art project. Wanting to work with underserved communities, she has partnered with the elementary school and public library in Charles City.

“Within the cohort, we come from such diverse fields, and it’s really wonderful to see how other faculty members at William & Mary, being in different communities — we have some folks in the hard sciences and the social sciences — where we really may not have crossed very often, were able to get together and realize that we have a lot of the same goals in the kinds of things that we want to accomplish in our teaching and in our research,” Brix said.

“So that has given a lovely opportunity for us to build relationships between ourselves. And then also share some of our own expertise from our own backgrounds in terms of how do we approach the notion of community from our respective disciplines.”

Building on a program for local K-12 students sparked by a local pastor during COVID-19 lockdown, Janise Parker used the accelerator to nail down next steps. Parker, associate professor in school psychology in the School of Education, co-leads the SOS Virtual Mentoring Program.

“This experience allowed me to learn from colleagues who have a similar passion for supporting communities yet are taking different pathways to engage in this work,” Parker said. “Hence, it has opened my mind to what can befor us all, including how we may collaborate in the future.”

Focusing on sustainability and how structure is key to creating a community-engaged program, Parker worked on three main areas. The results were a curriculum that W&M students can use with the K-12 students they are mentoring, a revised handbook for her students with a checklist of expectations and supervision with training modules for them.

Alex Joosse, associate teaching professor of public policy, teaches nonprofit management and has a personal interest in helping local nonprofits thrive. She learned from the cohort how to better engage her students in community-based research projects and hopes to embed some of her graduate students in local nonprofits during the upcoming academic year, she said.

“All of our interests and all of our projects are different,” Joosse said. “But what we drew from this experience was that we really created a network among ourselves, and we hope to expand that network with the broader community as well.”

, Communications Specialist