Public Scholarship and Engagement

Michael Rios’ Charge: Expand Visibility, Impact

Students study on Mrak Mall.
The public visibility and impact of work being done at UC Davis will be amplified by the new Office of Public Scholarship and Engagement. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

In appointing Michael Rios, professor of human ecology, as the founding director of the Office of Public Scholarship and Engagement, UC Davis is investing in faculty and their desire to expand public visibility and impact.

The appointment, effective Sept. 1, is the culmination of a multiyear process of discernment that began when the campus achieved the Community Engagement Classification by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in 2015. Soon afterward, Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Ralph J. Hexter charged a work group led by Dennis Pendleton, the retired dean of UC Davis Extension, to study and offer recommendations on how to advance engaged scholarship at UC Davis. That work group’s report can be found here.

Michael Rios

In response, during the 2017-18 academic year, Rios was selected to lead an intensive review, during which he interviewed dozens of faculty members and other stakeholders to establish both the needs and potential for a more structured approach to engaged scholarship and learning.

“I am very pleased that under Michael’s leadership, the campus will be better able to support faculty, students and nonuniversity groups in developing collaborative partnerships around research and learning,” Hexter said. “We have much to offer our neighbors, and equally we have much to learn.”

Rios said the unit will work with all 10 of UC Davis’s colleges and schools on the Davis and Sacramento campuses to find connections among scholars, researchers and educators that focus on public issues, furthering the university’s mission as a land-grant institution.

Breaking down traditional barriers

“It’s about breaking down some of the traditional boundaries of what constitutes knowledge, how it’s disseminated and who benefits from it,” Rios said, adding that the actions of faculty, students and staff will have a broader impact when given more visibility and better integration with communities on and off campus. And increased impact is one of the goals of the recently released campus strategic plan, “To Boldly Go.”

Rios envisions the office working with units across campus, for example: the Office of Research, to increase resources for research that has a public scholarship element; the UC Davis Library, to collaborate on digital storytelling and community archiving projects; and Global Affairs, to seek out and support experiential learning opportunities where students participate in cross-cultural engagement throughout the region.

Working with a growing number of faculty, staff and students under the auspices of the Engaged Scholarship and Engaged Leaning Collaborative, Rios said, he plans to draft an implementation framework for UC Davis, and open it for discussion this year before its launch in May.

The framework will be guided by draft goals created after outreach that included a survey of individuals from the Academic Senate and Academic Federation, more than 50 faculty interviews, individual meetings with campus stakeholders, and focus groups with more than 100 non-university stakeholders. The draft goals are:

  • Reward and recognize public scholarship that exemplifies excellence in research, teaching and creative practice
  • Support faculty-centered spaces that foster communication and collaboration
  • Integrate public scholarship into university governance, budgeting and research support
  • Enhance community-based student learning experiences
  • Increase institutional visibility, community engagement and public impact

Rios joined the UC Davis faculty in 2007, and his studies focus on community engagement, place making, and cross-cultural planning and design.

He also serves on the executive committee of the UC Davis Center for Regional Change, and chaired the Community Development Graduate Group from 2011 to 2015.

Rios earned a bachelor’s degree in urban studies and architecture from Lehigh University, master’s degrees in architecture and city planning from UC Berkeley, and a Ph.D. in geography from Pennsylvania State University.

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