Community first

Unite:Ed is the College of Education’s “front door” for community partnerships

 

 

When Unite:Ed director Dana Arviso was a PhD student at the UW College of Education about 15 years ago, there was something she yearned to incorporate into her research on literacy in Native American communities.

“I wanted to do research that was with and for communities,” Arviso said. “I really had a desire to make my research community-based.”

What Arviso found, however, was that the infrastructure for the partnership-based research she craved wasn’t available — at least not for PhD candidates at that time.

“Fifteen years ago, the thinking was that that would be really good work — but more appropriate for later on in your career,” Arviso said. “It wasn’t meant to be dismissive. We just didn’t have the right supports in place.

“I didn’t complete my doctorate — in part because I couldn’t figure out how to navigate my desire to do community-based work within the academy.”

Instead, Arviso, who had already earned her master’s degree from the College, went to work for the Potlatch Fund, the Northwest’s leading philanthropic organization dedicated to building on the Native tradition of giving to strengthen tribal communities.

During her decade at the Potlatch Fund, Arviso became its executive director, significantly expanding the fund’s grant-making capabilities. She also served as a board member for Native Americans in Philanthropy, the Social Justice Fund Northwest and the American Indian Graduate Center.

Video spotlight

Hear more about the Unite:Ed alliance and its work to advance educational opportunity for historically underserved communities.

A shift toward community

During that decade, the environment had shifted at the College of Education. Multiple independent research projects flourished, based on partnering closely with dozens of school districts and community organizations — organizations that often included College alumni in key positions.

Many College of Education faculty members saw these partnerships as an effective way of enriching their research, while at the same time making that research a tool for promoting social justice, by aligning with needs identified by underserved communities.

dana arviso"We’re building on strengths the College already has, in relationships that have been built organically. Whether it’s been called community-based research or community-practice partnerships, there are almost 300 existing partnerships between the College of Education and the broader community."

Dana Arviso, Unite:Ed Director

Unite:Ed opens the door

To strengthen and encourage those ties, and thanks to a 2018 grant from the Gates Foundation, Unite:Ed was created. Arviso’s passion and experience made her a perfect fit to lead the effort as Unite:Ed’s inaugural director.

“We’re building on strengths the College already has, in relationships that have been built organically,” Arviso said. “Whether it’s been called community-based research or community-practice partnerships, there are almost 300 existing partnerships between the College of Education and the broader community. But if you ask anyone to list out those 300 partnerships, we don’t have a good sense of that. We haven’t had a front door for those partnerships.”

Arviso said Unite:Ed is focused on three main initiatives:

  • Building and strengthening existing relationships with community partners, tribes and school districts;
  • Fostering new justice-oriented research-practice partnerships;
  • Recruiting and supporting PhD candidates, called Community Partner Fellows, to work with local organizations on co-designed projects, with an emphasis on social justice.

Community Partner Fellows

“A big part of my work is doing matchmaking — bringing people together to build partnerships,” Arviso said. “It’s also about working with faculty to find out what kind of support they need to do this work better.”

Arviso is especially excited about matching community organizations with PhD students who, like her when she was a student, have a passion for community service.

Through the Community Partner Fellows program, community organizations that need research assistance — especially organizations that don’t have internal research and evaluation capacity — can apply to be paired with a doctoral student, under the advisement of a College of Education faculty member. Each fellow works with their community organization on a half-time basis over a two-year period on co-designed projects.

As the project enters its third year, 20 PhD candidates have been paired with diverse local organizations like Boys & Girls Clubs of King County, Washington STEM, Schools Out WA, Southeast Seattle Education Coalition, Black Education Strategy Roundtable, and Technology Access Foundation to work on a wide variety of projects.

“We’re not trying to do something new. We’re trying to provide more infrastructure for this work to continue and flourish.”

“It’s been a pleasure working with the UW College of Education. Through our partnerships we have co-learned about strengthening community voices.”

Erin Okuno, Executive Director, Southeast Seattle Education Coalition

Research as community service

Arviso said these partnerships have helped community organizations tackle problems they might not otherwise be able to address.

They also provide an important educational and professional development track for College of Education PhD candidates — as an alternative to more traditional research assistantships.

“It’s been a pleasure working with the UW College of Education,” said Erin Okuno, executive director of the Southeast Seattle Education Coalition (SESEC). “Through our partnerships we have co-learned about strengthening community voices.”

SESEC was paired with PhD student Kaleb Germinaro, under the supervision of faculty member Filiberto Barajas-López, to develop family engagement surveys to help the organization improve its work with diverse families of middle and high school students.

“My research interests deal with how to promote mental health equity for minority students,” Germinaro said. “I want to serve people in their pursuit of their dreams, making sure they have the tools and skills to do so in a healthy way.”

“Students like Kaleb who want to blend their research with community service really need to be supported,” Arviso said. “They need to have that work seen and valued by the broader community of academia. And while community-based work may not be the goal for every PhD student, we need to expand the opportunities that we’ve had [for them].

Support Community Partner Fellows

Community organizations interested in supporting a Community Partner Fellow or individuals and foundations interested in funding a Fellow are encouraged to contact Unite:Ed Director Dana Arviso at darviso@uw.edu