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Featured Member

The Glue That Holds it All Together

The CCPH Featured Member is Cynthia Barnes-Boyd. Cynthia is Assistant Dean of Community Health in the College of Nursing, at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). She is also the Director of Neighborhoods Initiative of the Great Cities Institute at UIC, which brings together resources from the community and the university to help strengthen the quality of life for the benefit of current residents, businesses, the university, and other institutions. In Cynthia's interview, she passionately speaks on the necessity of building long-lasting relationships between communities and universities to create successful partnerships. "A distinctive characteristic is that we maintain relationships over time. University staff and students come and go, projects start and end and community organizations and those who run them change. Our constant presence in the community arena is sometimes the glue that holds it all together."

Briefly, what is the mission of your organization?
What do you most want people to know about the work that you do and the unique characteristics of your organization?
What are you passionate about in your work? What has motivated you to become involved in community-university partnerships?
What is your dream for the future of your organization and/or community-campus partnerships you're involved in?
What wisdom would you like to communicate to others in this field? What advice would you give to a student or professional just entering into the field?
What is the biggest challenge you face in your work and how are working to overcome it?
If you could give advice to a policymaker what would you recommend?
Why did you join CCPH? How would you describe the organization to your colleagues?
What does “community-campus partnership” mean to you?
What has CCPH done to help you most?
What strengths and talents do you bring to CCPH?

Q: Briefly, what is the mission of your organization?

Cynthia Barnes-Boyd

A: The mission of the Great Cities Neighborhoods Initiative is comparable to CCPH's mission. We considered CCPH's mission as a model when we developed our own mission statement. The living mission of the Great Cities Neighborhood Initiative directs us to nurture, monitor and evaluate university and community partnerships we develop in the surrounding communities. Our staff serves as translators between the university and the communities, managing the information flow in both directions. Our major work focuses on developing partnerships with some reasonable semblance of equity.

The attractive thing about the way we work is that our efforts result in the responsive relationships idealized in our mission statement. We annually review the mission statement to make sure it is not just a document hanging on a wall. Our mission guides and inspires us.

Q: What do you most want people to know about the work that you do and the unique characteristics of your organization?

A: We work at developing supportive relationships for the all parties but in particular for academics who want to work in and with the community. We continually work with the faculty to make sure that they understand the value of these relationships and the importance of respect and good "guest" behavior. We assume that everyone needs preparation in how to develop these relationships even when they profess to come from the same communities. In tactful and supportive ways we encourage humility, listening skills and "non-academic" approaches to communication.

A distinctive characteristic is that we maintain relationships over time. University staff and students come and go, projects start and end and community organizations and those who run them change. Our constant presence in the community arena is sometimes the glue that holds it all together.

Q: What are you passionate about in your work?

A: I am passionate about marshalling the resources of the university to improve the quality of life for people that are in our immediate neighborhoods. As with any neighbor, the university has specific responsibilities within the larger community. Our neighbors should expect the same kind of cooperation and information sharing that would be expected from any other neighbor. I enjoy making this happen. By diligently maintaining the lines of communicating through good and bad times, I have seen barriers come down and relationships formed. For example at our recent annual partners retreat, people came to brainstorm with us about how the University could stay engaged despite recent budget cuts. They did not come to get something, but to help devise a plan to manage limited resources. The product of this dialogue was in no way self-serving and truly reflected the strength of relationships that have formed over the years. This is definitely a measure of success. It is inspiring to see something rhetorical move to something you can see and feel.

My motivation came after I had been working internally in the university for 17 years. I became involved in an Infant Mortality Reduction Initiative and I became concerned about the socioeconomic contributors to mortality in the communities surrounding the university. My concerns took me outside of the university where I focused on increasing my understanding of community dynamics and the impact on health. It was a life changing experience to then look back at the university from the community and see both institutional arrogance and apathy. I saw the disconnect between our research and its application, between student education and civic responsibility. UIC is an urban land-grant university with a mission to reach and serve all of the people of the state yet in some respects we were disconnected from our own community. Later when I assumed a role as the director of a university sponsored community health center, many did not view me as someone from the university. I had the opportunity to view and listen to the different concerns between the university and the community. I learned that being outside in the community as a representative of the university I am able to help people find ways to reach in.


Q: What is your dream for the future of your organization and/or community-campus partnerships you're involved in?

A: My dream would be to not have to take the time to look for funding to sustain the work we do. I would like to see the Neighborhood Initiative become so deeply entrenched in the university that it becomes critical to the survival of the university and no one would ever look to us to cut even in the leanest years.

Q: What wisdom would you like to communicate to others in this field? What advice would you give to a student or professional just entering into the field?

A: There is value in paying equal attention to both sides of these relationships. Often people understand university/community partnerships only superficially. Both partners are at the table promoting or protecting their own interests. It is rare to see relationship evolve such that each advocates for the other with equal passion. Nevertheless this is possible.

If I was working with students who wanted to spend time learning about what I do. I would offer them the opportunity to spend time with a community partner instead. They have enough role model academicians and researchers. They have fewer opportunities to experience the challenges many of our partners face every day. I'd tell them not to underestimate the importance of understanding the players on the front end of partnership development. Partnerships require continuous maintenance and the task is less onerous when you understand why you even bother.

I would also tell them that we must focus on empowering rather than fostering dependency. For example, the community should not be dependent on us to write grants, etc. We can take these partnerships to a higher level by exchanging information that will allow community partners to do for themselves. For example, the executive director of the community organization that I work with knows my approach so well that she can actually craft my parts of her proposal as easily as I can draft hers. So she is able to do a lot of the front work even when I can't assist. A partnership is about watching out for each other and understanding each organization.

Looking around the university I've also learned that there is a place for everybody, and for some that place is not in the community regardless of how much we try to prepare them. Everyone has a different view of the world and a different value in it. Knowing this, I never drag a colleague into the community because I think they should want to be there. Many lose their ability to communicate effectively when they are not in their own space. I don't try to convince people about what a wonderful experience it is to work with communities if they don't share the same passion. Instead I seek out those that do. I've found people who have great ideas for our community engagement but don't want to be there or have anything to do with what lies between the unveiling of the idea and the product. So, I learned to simply thank them for the inspiration, take it and run.

Q: What is the biggest challenge you face in your work and how are working to overcome it?

A: The first challenge is financial. We receive hard dollars to support our work but of course our mission is bigger than that pot. I work hard to influence the opinions of university leadership about the value of our community engagement, community scholarship and civic responsibility.

The second challenge is to make sure the leadership is also engaged and I mean engaged beyond talking about engagement in a speech. I see it as my responsibility to infuse passion into people by keeping them informed enough to act on issues from a place of understanding. Often community issues don't have the same weight with deans or administrators. We are celebrating our 10th year anniversary this year and each year we breath life into our program by making the rounds reeducating people about what we do and why our work will sustain the university over time.

To provide an arena for these conversations we have Partners Councils that bring people together to exchange ideas and work on problems. These councils are now mature and continue to attract people because they provide a forum to work things out. It's important to sustain these conversations even when we are not working on a specific grant or project.

Q: If you could give advice to a policymaker what would you recommend?

A: I think that when people think about health, they think very narrowly. We need to encourage the "thinkers" to broaden their definition of health to include all aspects of our life, from where we live and play, to where we are employed, and educated. I conceptualize health very broadly because I have the responsibility of working with all parts of the university not just the medical center. I help people realize that in order to have healthy individuals, communities, cities, everything we do has something to do with health.

In relation to policy, everything is so categorized in our society that it makes it difficult for people to see how thing are related. Everything is currently divided into separate departments for example, environment is separate from health is separate from education. It's difficult to connect the dots and for people to see how someone who is physically healthy but is homeless is not healthy. This separateness is fostered by how we develop policies, and the way we give money. I would like to sit down with policymakers to educate them about connectedness. Nothing is going to improve the quality of life for all people until this point is made.

Q: Why did you join CCPH? How would you describe the organization to your colleagues?

A: When I first assumed a position in the vice chancellor's office, I was looking for a description to help shape the position. Someone gave me an article that CCPH executive director, Sarena Seifer, had written about assessment of universities. I found Sarena's contact information over the internet and wrote her an email. The very same day she contacted me with information on connecting to people that helped me shape who I became in this role. She gave me names of people who were doing what I wanted to be doing and even contacted some of them in advance of my call. Soon after I became a member out of gratitude. I remain a member out of need.

I would describe CCPH as an excellent way to network with people who are really passionate about the work we are attempting to do. CCPH's annual conferences are great places to connect with people who may be helpful to you the rest of the year. I see CCPH as an organization in development that's moving towards a place of great potential. The organization is building an army and getting people aligned. I tell people that I work with in the community that CCPH is a great resource to learn how to talk to those people in the university you say won't communicate with you.

Q: What does “community-campus partnership” mean to you?

A: I support the partnership principles crafted by Barbara Holland. Partnerships developed along these principles are mutually beneficial and productive. Partnership implies equity although each party must be allowed to define equity in a way that suits their unique needs and values. My definition may vary with each partnership. There are many communities within community and campus may be one, several or all units of the university.

Q: What has CCPH done to help you most?

A: CCPH has helped me make meaningful connections with people who are experienced in the area I am currently working in. This has helped me avoid reinventing the wheel so to speak. Also, attending the annual conference helps me to network and more importantly, rejuvenate my spirit.

Q: What strengths and talents do you bring to CCPH?

A: I'm passionate and persuasive about the work that we're doing. I'm good at moving people from non-opinion to a positive opinion. I bring a good insight about some of the challenges and how to overcome them. I am good at seeing the big picture while also tending to details so they fit into the bigger picture. I'm a lot of fun! I am also humble enough to know that sometimes the best approach is to Pray and be still until the answer comes.

For more information please contact:

Cynthia Boyd
Director, Great Cities Neighborhoods Initiatives
University of Illinois at Chicago - College of Nursing
Community Health Initiatives
Tel: (312) 996-4656

CCPH November Featured Member
Oct. 20, 2003

To read about other previous featured members click here.

 

 
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