COLUMBIA, Mo. – A new report from the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) highlights how the University of Missouri System pivoted to university-wide engagement to address Missouri’s grand challenges.

“Modernizing Scholarship for the Public Good: An Action Framework for Public Research Universities” includes concrete actions that public research universities can take in eight key areas to support publicly engaged scholars and scholarship.

The report, available at, cites the UM System as an institutional example of one of those eight key areas – investing in institutional structures and networks that enable scholars to connect with one another and with the communities their universities serve.

“Partnerships with communities are essential in creating solutions that benefit the state,” said Alison Copeland, UM System deputy chief engagement officer. “The network of UM universities and MU Extension working with communities across the state is fundamental in addressing Missouri’s grand challenges – economic opportunity, educational access and excellence, health and well-being, and agricultural growth and stewardship.”

In the mid-2010s, the UM System sought to foster an institutional mandate for engagement. The role of the director of extension was expanded and repositioned as a direct report to the university chancellor with the new title of vice chancellor of extension and engagement. The new Office of Extension and Engagement was tasked with designing a sustainable model for engagement, leveraging research and teaching across the UM System’s four universities and with MU Extension’s statewide partnerships and local collaborations in all 114 counties and the city of St. Louis.

Just two years into this shift, UM System President and MU Chancellor Mun Choi created a UM System Office of Engagement and appointed Vice Chancellor for Extension and Engagement Marshall Stewart as UM’s first chief engagement officer. A university engagement council brought together administrators, faculty and staff from a cross section of schools and departments. In 2016, a statewide listening tour with the theme “Building Our Future Together” encouraged a diversity of voices to share their perspectives. These conversations identified common themes, which have translated into the state’s “grand challenges”: economic opportunity, educational access and excellence, and health and well-being. Agricultural growth and stewardship, foundational to the origins of cooperative extension, was later added. A strategic framework, All Things Missouri, directs and supports university engagement and ensures that community voices remain central.

Major outcomes of this renewed focus on engagement include NextGen Precision Health and the UM System Broadband Initiative. NextGen seeks to accelerate innovation in precision health care and improve health outcomes in Missouri and around the world, while the Broadband Initiative is a systematic effort to empower communities to increase access to and adoption of high-speed internet, which is an increasingly critical part of addressing all four of Missouri’s grand challenges.

“Today’s challenges are increasingly complex and require institutions to engage more deeply with their communities than ever before,” said APLU President Mark Becker. “The ‘Modernizing Scholarship’ action framework provides institutions a critical roadmap for bolstering their publicly engaged research and impact.”

The Action Framework outlines eight major areas for action by institutions to advance public research and scholarship:

  • Develop committed institutional leaders.
  • Reform appointment, retention, tenure and promotion practices.
  • Invest in institutional structures and networks.
  • Establish stronger reporting structures at the institutional level.
  • Build capacity for engagement and equity work among faculty.
  • Launch and maintain catalytic funding programs.
  • Develop awards and programs to recognize and celebrate work.
  • Formalize curricular training and professional development opportunities for students.

The APLU Office of Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resources, University of Michigan, the Rita Allen Foundation, the Kavli Foundation, and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund provided support for this report.

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