Penn State, Pitt examine partnerships at second annual Education Summit

While Penn State and Pitt may be athletic rivals, when it comes to education they have developed a very collaborative partnership. Now in its second year, the Penn State-Pitt Education Summit convened on the Penn State University Park campus June 15-16 and brought together faculty and subject-matter experts from across Pennsylvania to share information about "Re-Inventing Tomorrow’s Schools: Innovations in Pennsylvania through Community-University Partnerships."

According to summit co-chair Stephen Bagnato, it was Penn State College of Education Dean David Monk who first brought the idea to him, when Bagnato was honored as an Alumni Fellow in 2014. "Dean Monk met with me and said, 'I have this vision that there's a way Pitt and Penn State should be working together more, not only for our own benefit, but also to get the word out about the good work that we're doing,'" he said.

Bagnato, a developmental school psychologist and professor of psychology and pediatrics in the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Education and School of Medicine, said Penn State and Pitt both are doing a lot in the way of engaged scholarship, academic engagement and community partnerships.

The summit opened June 15 with a conversation between Lina Dostilio, the assistant vice chancellor for community engagement and a member of the Community and Government Relations Office at the University of Pittsburgh, and Jacqueline Edmondson, the chancellor at Penn State Greater Allegheny, about both institutions' engagement and partnerships.

They cited the importance of their respective universities becoming a part of the communities surrounding their campuses. Both agreed that faculty were connected to communities, that establishing those bonds helps economic development, and that the two institutions could "work on those things together."

Summit co-chair Cristin Hall, assistant professor of school psychology at Penn State, said the aim of the conference is to increase networking and research opportunities among interdisciplinary service professionals. "These research and service projects allow us to investigate, expand and collaborate on the ways in which we're trying to serve children across education, across agencies, in a way that is sustainable and scalable," she said.

Hall said the inaugural summit last year was more about evidence-based program implementation and sustainability, while this year the focus has been more on implications for public policy and professional best practices.

Rather than hold a large conference, the organizers decided to keep it small. "When we talked about the content and what we were really interested in, we realized we wanted to drill it down into an opportunity where people could really network and participate in a more thoughtful, targeted way," Hall said.

Hall and Bagnato said the summit format is different from most because it puts the community partners in the spotlight. "We wanted to make sure we didn't just highlight the researcher because that's what we often do at conferences. The reality is that we would not, as researchers, be able to do our work without the engagement, dedication and commitment of those organizations that are directly serving children every day," Hall said.

Bagnato agreed. "Our vision was that we would really showcase our community partners," he said. "We wanted to show how smart and innovative they were, and that they just needed augmented resources — education, training and research, things universities do well — to make things happen for the benefit of the students and the communities. We've got some amazing people this year with unique partnerships, all the way from juvenile justice to telemedicine, so it's really cool."

The summit format built in participation from everyone in the room. Presentation strands included about a half-dozen presentations, each lasting a maximum of 12 minutes with no more than six slides and specific topics to be addressed. At the end of each presentation strand, student volunteers facilitated roundtable discussions to reflect on what they're learning, as well as ponder next steps and implications. The students took notes during the discussion, so the information can be used in meaningful ways.

Hall and Bagnato will collaborate to create proceedings from the event that will inform future collaborations and next steps in the field, and to foster continued engaged scholarship at Pitt and Penn State.