HUD Report Offers Widener as Case Study in Civic Engagement

Widener University’s civic engagement efforts in the city of Chester have been recognized by publications such as Newsweek and Washington Monthly, but now the federal government is using Widener as a case study on the positive impact colleges and universities can have in stabilizing and improving the nation's struggling communities.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Office of University Partnership recently released a 23-page report titled Building Resiliency: The Role of Anchor Institution in Sustaining Community Economic Development. The report is based on a day-long conference of the same title held at Widener last November and sponsored by the university, HUD and the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. At the event, participants from the private sector, government, academia and nonprofits discussed how to create collaborations and partnerships using Widener as a case study.

"Our hope is that other colleges and universities and other cities will use this report to establish the types of partnerships that we have been so fortunate to build in the city of Chester," Harris said. "The most valuable message that this case study offers is that you don't have to have deep pockets or have a huge endowment as an institution to have an impact in your community. You have to be dedicated to improving your community and be willing to create democratic partnerships to find creative solutions to problems."

The report chronicles Widener's transformation into one of the nation's leading civic engagement institutions in just 10 years. It highlights such initiatives as the Widener Partnership Charter School, the growth of the university's service-learning courses, the university's strong relationship with city government, the university's role as an anchor institution in the Strong Cities, Strong Communities initiative, and the role that faculty – especially in the School of Human Service Professions – have played in promoting civic engagement.

Dr. Paula Silver, dean of the School of Human Service Professions, served as a panelist during the conference. The report offers Silver's suggestions for overcoming community distrust and engaging in partnership building:

  • If you do not plan to stick around, do not attempt to engage the community. Broken commitments will just add to the problem.
  • Do not attempt community-building alone. Find community partners to give your credibility.
  • Community engagement is not antithetical to an institution of higher education's education mission. Learning for students is enhanced through engaging with the community.
  • Get good at grantwriting, as funding becomes more tenuous.

The full report is available online at


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