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Faculty examine Furman’s role in the community

Public Engagement Panel Discussion

From community volunteerism and internships to educational outreach and research collaborations, Furman impacts the Greenville community through a myriad of endeavors.

Those connections are rewarding, enriching and sometimes prickly. But they are all important, according to a panel of four professors who took part in a Tuesday presentation titled “Public Engagement and the University.”

“At some point, we incur the responsibility to give back,” said philosophy and poverty studies professor David Gandolfo, Ph.D.

Gandolfo explained that Furman is part of the Greenville area’s social makeup and a liberal arts education makes students aware of the problems that reality presents beyond campus.

“We are at this university and are able to function because society provides what we need,” he said. “Therefore, we have a social obligation to the community.”

The panel discussion led a series of events celebrating the inauguration of President Elizabeth Davis. Each event focused on how universities are engaging the public, and examined Furman’s role in the local and global community.

Political science professor Danielle Vinson, Ph.D., encourages many of her students take jobs as interns in the Greenville area. She is also frequently quoted in the local media, particularly during election season. Vinson says her work outside the classroom provides a “reality check” and ensures that she is teaching relevant information.

“Sometimes theories outlive their usefulness,” she said. “It really makes us reconsider what we are teaching.”

However, public engagement can have hazards. Education professor Paul Thomas, Ph.D., said his editorial pieces for The Greenville News on corporal punishment and third grade retention have sometimes been met with criticism.

“We have to spend some time explaining,” he said. “And we have to sometimes deal with things that are uncomfortable.”

Dr. Gandolfo said the guiding principles of a liberal arts education – exploration and critical thinking – encourage community connectedness.

“At liberal arts schools, we want to learn things differently,” he said. “In this way, a liberal arts education is very amiable to community involvement.”

Health sciences professor Alicia Powers, Ph.D., who often conducts community-based research on nutrition and health, said universities should be change agents. They should work to improve lives.

“If we identity a problem, we have an obligation to try and solve it,” she said.

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