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Rutgers Faculty Tour of New Brunswick Sheds New Light on Host City
Many see opportunities for new research and relationships
Kathe Newman had been working for nearly a decade analyzing foreclosure data for research centered in Essex, Union and Hudson counties.
She hadn’t taken an extensive look at New Brunswick, partly because she didn’t know of any local organizations that were working on foreclosures and could help her ask the right questions.
But during a recent faculty tour of the city, Newman found out that some local community groups were dealing with the issue. But they were struggling to understand the cause of the problem.
Newman believes that because she has been doing that type of research since 2002, she can help.
“That is something that we are good at, we are good at research,’’ said Newman, director of the Ralph W. Voorhees Center for Civic Engagement. “That makes for a natural collaboration.’’
Studying local foreclosures is just one of the possible projects that may grow out of a new initiative to strengthen Rutgers’ ties to New Brunswick. About two dozen faculty participated in a day and a half long city tour December 14 and 15 organized by the University’s office of Community Affairs to familiarize professors with the issues and opportunities for research and to build relationships with residents.
Being able to work with a local community group helps to shed light on specific challenges in a area and builds understanding, which is beneficial when analyzing the data, Newman said.
“Understanding what the problem is on the scale of a city, or a neighborhood or even a block is critical to be able to develop a response to it,’’ Newman said.
The faculty tour started with a visit to Johnson & Johnson where professors learned that the band-aid and duct tape were both invented in New Brunswick, and learned about the company’s role revitalizing the city. Faculty learned about demographics shifts within the city’s Latino population, visited a city bodega and the site of new development projects, and met community leaders who talked about a range of challenges city residents face.
The initiative to enhance ties with New Brunswick involves a multi-pronged outreach effort that also includes funding research grants to faculty who work with community partners, and creating new communications vehicles that highlight opportunities and resources Rutgers offers the community.
“The goal of the tour was to help faculty members understand the issues facing the citizens of New Brunswick and to help them understand what the local community is all about so it informs their research going forward,’’ said Melissa Selesky, director of Rutgers-New Brunswick Community Relations, a new position created as part of the initiative.
Faculty members said participating in the tour gave them a chance to meet colleagues and talk about ways to collaborate on research across departments, while learning more about the community that surrounds the university.
“I think it was important to see that we have made some good connections but that there were also some other good possibilities that we didn’t know about,’’ said Cara Cuite, an associate research professor with the Department of Human Ecology and the Food Policy Institute.
Professor David Redlawsk said the tour proved helpful as he prepares for a periodic community survey with New Brunswick Tomorrow.
“What was going through my mind during the tour was: here are things we should be asking and here are ways we have to ask them,’’ said Redlawsk, director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling.
“I could read about New Brunswick and have a broad understanding but it was really different hearing from people about social service issues in the community,’’ Redlawsk said. “I think that is really helpful.’’
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