The city of Charleston has joined the University of Mississippi in a new venture, M Partner, a project that matches university capabilities with locally identified projects to tackle community goals and challenges.
The M Partner initiative in Charleston was announced Monday at a news conference in which Mayor Sedrick Smith and UM Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter signed a partnership agreement. Charleston joins Lexington and New Albany as pilot cities in the M Partner program, which is a transformative initiative outlined in the university’s comprehensive strategic plan, Flagship Forward. The university and the city will collaborate to identify and address local projects ranging from health care and education, economic development and policy, marketing and tourism, and resiliency to core government systems.
“As mayor, I would like to express my appreciation for the University of Mississippi’s interest in one of the greatest communities in the state of Mississippi,” Smith said. “What we do today will help lead in planning for the city’s success for many years to come. This collaborative effort will help shape and strengthen our citizens’ quality of life.”
Launched as a pilot program in 2018, M Partner will work with the inaugural cities for up to 24 months. During the pilot, communities will work with the university to define their needs and the two entities will collaborate on strategies to address them.
“I’m very pleased the cities of Lexington and Charleston have been selected to participate in the M Partner program,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, Mississippi’s 2nd district congressman. “A collaborative approach to community development and engagement is a great way to strengthen these communities and build resources that will be very useful today and in the future. I appreciate the University of Mississippi’s strong commitment to our state and these cities.”
The goal is to create “substantial and sustainable” results, which will be viable in the community for decades to come, Vitter said.
The chancellor laid out the vision for the program in his November 2016 inaugural address, noting the considerable potential in channeling the talents of the university to support towns and cities as they collaborate to improve community life. This innovative partnership program seeks to match diverse and comprehensive university talent and ideas with community goals to create leveraged results across the full community.
“M Partner represents a powerful and innovative way to address one of our fundamental responsibilities as an institution of higher education – building healthy and vibrant communities in Mississippi,” Vitter said. “Working together, we will achieve substantial and sustainable advances in partner communities while enhancing learning and research at the university – all for the betterment of our state. We are so pleased to be launching this transformative initiative as a pilot program with Charleston.”
The goal is to create a mutually beneficial relationship through which the university and the community work together to co-create knowledge and ideas that improve quality of life in the long term. M Partner leverages a three-pronged approach to community partnership. It includes:
- A robust student service-learning component in which students and professors work alongside community members to achieve meaningful results in the community and enhance learning and teaching in the university
- Research and scholarship fueled by real-world challenges and informed by lessons learned from partners at the community level
- Engagement of university and community leaders to apply best practices and creative problem-solving that will enhance community life and inform university outreach and service activities Katrina Caldwell, UM vice chancellor for diversity and community engagement and director of M Partner, and Alice M. Clark, interim vice chancellor for university relations, will guide the program.
Dr. Catherine W. Moring, a UM alumna and executive director of Charleston’s James C. Kennedy Wellness Center, said she is excited about the partnership.
“I’m thrilled to see the university pick Charleston as one of its initial partners. The possibility for positive change is often only limited by capability and resources. M Partner gives us a chance to scale up and diversify our current endeavors,” Moring said. “As an R1 research facility, Ole Miss brings a heightened level of possibility to help us set new goals, define next steps, and enhance our efforts regarding community development. When possibility and capability begin to work together, opportunity emerges. This partnership will bring great opportunity to Charleston as well as the university and I look forward to being a part of this inaugural journey.”
By Michael Newsom
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