Sheffer honored for enhancing connection of humanities research with community needs

sheffer

Dr. Jolie Sheffer, director of Bowling Green State University’s Institute for the Study of Culture and Society (ICS), has received the 2019 David Hoch Memorial Award for Excellence in Service. The annual award is designed to recognize and honor the outstanding work in service-learning and/or civic engagement of two faculty or staff members at Ohio Campus Compact member institutions. Also honored was Dr. Mary Ann Studer, dean of the McMaster School for Advancing Humanity at Defiance College.

The president of the college or university must nominate each candidate.

In his nomination of Sheffer, BGSU President Rodney Rogers said, “She does her own community-engaged teaching and research and works closely with our Center for Community and Civic Engagement, but in her role as the leader of a public humanities Institute, she is impacting our campus culture, creating powerful opportunities for students, faculty members and staff to engage with the community and develop their own skills and knowledge to create public good.”

As ICS director, Sheffer, who is also an associate professor of English and American culture studies, has taken the institute to a new level of public engagement, including requiring that its faculty fellows share their scholarship with the public.

“Once I became director in fall 2016, I reimagined the role of ICS, which was founded in 1996 to support interdisciplinary scholarship in the humanities and arts, to focus explicitly on thinking broadly about different forms of knowledge and connecting research with the broader community,” she said. “This has taken several forms. In the current context when universities are under attack, and the humanities and arts funding is being cut, this work feels absolutely urgent. The work of ICS makes the case clearly and persuasively just how much universities do to address big social problems, foster innovation, increase equity and diversity in our communities, and prepare students for 21st-century life.”

Sheffer has worked to strengthen and develop relationships with a variety of community partners by helping BGSU faculty members to envision and plan meaningful collaboration with relevant organizations with whom to share their work, and in turn lead to new research and creative opportunities. Current and recent community partners include the Bowling Green City Schools, Toledo School for the Arts, Bowling Green and Perrysburg chapters of the League of Women Voters, the Cocoon women’s shelter, Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, Wood County Board of Development Disabilities and the Wood County Senior Center. A new research cluster devoted to the study of poverty will host a public panel discussion with activists in the region working on housing affordability and equity issues.

“The result is a virtuous circle, whereby research informs community practice, which in turns shapes another research project,” Sheffer said.

Sheffer also created an undergraduate internship program in ICS, which allows students to gain professional experience, for academic credit, applying skills from their major to the work of a public humanities center.

“The results have been remarkable – the interns have all become increasingly interested in, aware of, and committed to in community service and social justice work,” she said.

In addition, she is developing a peer-to-peer community among the BGSU faculty to support community-engaged scholarship and, to help faculty become more comfortable communicating their research expertise to nonacademic audiences, she developed a media training program for BGSU faculty fellows. The goal is to create a supportive network for community- based work, which has both short- and long-term benefits.