What is the Resilient Communities Project (RCP)?
The Resilient Communities Project (RCP, www.rcp.umn.edu) is an award-winning cross-disciplinary program at the University of Minnesota that supports one-year partnerships between the university and communities in Minnesota to advance local sustainability and resilience. The idea behind RCP is simple: Connect the students and faculty at a world-class teaching and research institution with local communities to address economic, social, and environmental issues, needs, and opportunities and make the world a better place.
How does RCP work?
Each year, RCP selects one partner community (typically a city or county) through a competitive request-for-proposal process. Working with staff and stakeholders in the community, RCP helps to identify 15–30 potential project ideas that will advance local sustainability and resilience based on community-identified environmental, social, and economic issues and needs.
RCP then serves as a centralized “matchmaker,” strategically connecting these projects with existing UMN courses or with independent student efforts (such as field experience, honors project, or thesis) that can provide research or technical assistance to move the projects forward. Local government staff and stakeholders work closely with faculty and students to provide local knowledge and deeper insight into the issues, ensuring projects are relevant to the community context. Outcomes from each University course or student project are documented in a final report and presentation to the community partner.
Who can participate?
This program is for faculty (including adjunct faculty and lecturers) at any University of Minnesota campus who:
- teach an existing graduate or upper-division undergraduate course
- are interested in assisting a local community with a high-priority project designed to advance local sustainability and resilience
- would like to incorporate a real-world project into their course—either as part of an existing assignment that has an applied-learning, service-learning, or community-engagement component, or in place of an existing assignment that requires students to work on a “hypothetical” project or problem
Participation in the program is completely voluntary, and participating one year does not commit anyone to a subsequent year (although most faculty choose to remain involved).
I already have students in my courses work on community-based or service-learning projects with partners or clients. Why should I link my course with an RCP project?
We applaud the fact that many faculty already require that students in their courses work on community-based or applied-learning projects, and recognize that faculty can solicit such projects on their own. Our goal is not to supplant these efforts, but we believe RCP does offer a different model for how to engage community partners.
One significant benefit of this model for faculty is that RCP provides logistical support for projects throughout the semester, making it much easier and more efficient to incorporate a meaningful community-based project into your course.
In addition, RCP is scaled for impact. The program is focused on a single community for an entire academic year, which allows for a much deeper and more sustained collaboration. By linking your course with an RCP project, you connect your students to a larger, longer term effort that will have a visible impact in the partner community.
What is the time commitment?
Although there may be a small upfront time investment to set up the project or course assignment, in most cases, very little additional time is required to participate in RCP. Frequently, participating in the program makes teaching applied courses easier and less time-consuming, as there is a coordinator finding projects, bringing partners to the table, and organizing logistics.
We recognize that faculty have many demands on their time, and our goal is to minimize or eliminate barriers to participation. RCP staff will do much of the set-up work for you, including connecting you with project leads in the community, helping to develop a scope of work for the project your students will undertake, ensuring data and background information that students will need for the project are available at the beginning of the semester, and orienting your students to RCP, the partner community and the project.
What are the benefits for faculty of participating in RCP?
RCP benefits faculty by providing ready-made opportunities for students to engage in real-world projects with a committed community partner, providing the infrastructure and material support necessary to make the partnership successful, and sharing widely the work that students and faculty are doing on behalf of our partnership.
- Partner community commitment: Because communities apply for and pay to participate in the RCP program, you can be certain that projects have been well-vetted, and that you and your students will have a committed partner at the table throughout the semester.
- Staff support: RCP will assist you in identifying a project, connecting with community partners, gathering information or data sets, accessing city resources, setting up or adapting learning activities—all the components to make your course activity successful.
- Financial support: Each participating RCP course can apply for up to $500 to support project-related course activities. Funds can be used to purchase materials and resources needed for the project, reimburse student travel, pay a stipend to guest speakers, or for other approved uses.
- Publicity: RCP uses social media—and works with campus communicators and traditional media such as local, regional, and campus news organizations—to share stories about RCP projects and ensure that you and your students receive recognition for the good work you’re doing in the community.
How do students benefit from participating in an RCP-linked course or project?
RCP provides many benefits for students who collaborate with the program, including:
- Efficient access to high-quality and well-organized community projects
- Experience applying knowledge and skills to real-world issues
- Potential to advance local sustainability and resilience and make a difference
- Financial support for travel and other costs associated with the project
- Opportunities to network with local government and industry personnel
- Local and regional visibility and recognition for their work
What is my responsibility as a faculty member participating in an RCP project?
Faculty can choose to connect an entire course (i.e., a capstone, lab, or design studio), or an existing class project assignment within a course, to an RCP project, based on what works best for their particular course and curriculum. As a faculty participant, we ask that you:
- incorporate at least one classroom activity or assignment focused on a city-identified project in which students interact with, and present their work to, city staff;
- supervise and/or review student work to ensure high-quality, professional deliverables;
- allow RCP to do a brief, 10–15 minute classroom presentation describing the program early in the semester to students working on RCP projects;
- share with RCP staff the names and email addresses of students in your course working on RCP projects so we can communicate with them directly when needed;
- maintain regular and timely communication with RCP and the community partner as needed throughout the project to ensure a collaborative working relationship;
- assist RCP with obtaining digital copies of all student deliverables at the end of the semester; and
- help RCP to identify a high-achieving student in your class with whom we can contract after the semester has ended to create a summary report and/or poster.
What is my course deliverable?
Typically, the course deliverable to the community partner includes the final reports or papers students turn in for a grade on the assignment, as well as a class presentation of their key findings and recommendations. Depending on the nature of the course and the project, RCP may also contract independently with a student in your course after the semester ends to produce a summary report of the best designs, solutions, and products generated by your class, and/or to design a poster summarizing the project for display at our annual End-of-Year Celebration in May. RCP is ultimately responsible for providing the community partner with digital and hardcopy versions of all deliverables, and will post these materials on the RCP website.
Do I need a background in sustainability to participate in RCP?
No, your expertise in your discipline and the work of your students can help our community partner meet their sustainability goals whether or not you have a background in sustainability or explicit course content focused on sustainability. For instance, a course project that provides recommendations that could lead to financial savings, staff efficiencies, or increased resident access to city services all support RCP’s goal of contributing to the quality of life and sustainability of our partner communities.
Are there opportunities to develop a new course?
Although RCP’s primary focus is on simply redirecting activities that are a part of existing courses to meet the needs of our community partner, we can work with interested faculty and with staff at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Educational Innovation to develop a new course (or rework an existing course or assignment) to connect with the RCP program.
How do I get involved?
There are many ways to get involved:
- Let us know you’re interested! Contact RCP Director Mike Greco at firstname.lastname@example.org or 612-625-7501 to find out more or to share your ideas.
- Check out the list of projects identified by our community partner to see if there are connections with a course you’re teaching.
- Meet with RCP staff to connect with community partners and develop your course project.
- Attend our annual RCP End-of-Year Celebration in May to see examples of projects that students have completed in other courses and get ideas for how your own course might participate.