6. Build Strong Civic And Community Relationships

Old Dominion is positioning itself as the “go-to” place for solutions to critical issues affecting Hampton Roads in response to one of the key objectives of Goal 6: create a dynamic community-university relationship to help solve community problems. At the start of the fall semester, the university created an Office of Community Engagement to get that ball rolling.

In addition to applying ODU’s expertise and research capabilities in service to the region, the office’s goals include providing support for new opportunities to foster a greater culture of community engagement and civic-mindedness.

Karen Travis, who previously held the title of assistant vice president for university advancement, university events and licensing, directs the new office.

“We want to leverage and build upon the public service work currently happening at Old Dominion,” she said. “Through this office we will bring together community leaders and citizens to talk about issues that face our region – everything from health care, education, human and social services, economics and workforce development, and the arts, to the environment and the military.”

Supporting this overall effort is a recent gift to the university from local benefactors Douglas and Patricia Perry that has resulted in the Perry Fund for the Study of Critical Issues.

One project just getting under way is an effort to identify the multifaceted impact climate change and rising sea levels will have on the region. Board of Visitors Professor of Economics James V. Koch and Slover Professor of Oceanography Larry Atkinson will pull together the university and the region’s foremost experts to find solutions to the anticipated effects on the Hampton Roads economy, housing, ports and infrastructure.

“While the university has come up with the initial list of topics for discussion, the Office of Community Engagement will use its first year to conduct town hall meetings to hear from stakeholders their concerns impacting the region,” Travis said.

Her office will also lead the effort for ODU to attain national designation as an engaged, metropolitan university through the Carnegie Foundation Community Engagement classification. ODU would be among the first public colleges and universities in Virginia to receive this designation.

“Attaining the designation will afford us greater opportunities to receive federal grants and help to further President Broderick’s vision of being one of the nation’s pre-eminent metropolitan research universities,” Travis said.

The office will also review some of the annual events the university hosts “to look at them from a community engagement perspective,” she added.

“We did this with President Broderick’s State of the University address in August, in which he talked about his vision for Old Dominion. Because ODU is a major partner in our region, we invited political and civic leaders to the address to extend that message beyond our four walls.”

Other areas covered by Goal 6 of the Strategic Plan, which the Office of Community Engagement will have a hand in, include expanding and promoting continuing education programs, partnering with community colleges for expanded workforce development in the region, and creating a dynamic community-university relationship that uses community experts as instructors and ODU personnel as experts to help solve community problems.


WHRO has joined ODU in a community engagement partnership that will extend the reach and impact of both organizations. WHRO's veteran public affairs host, Cathy Lewis, will work with the Office for Community Engagement to identify opportunities to leverage ODU's expertise and research capabilities and WHRO’s media platforms in service to Hampton Roads. Bert Schmidt, president of WHRO Public Media, called the partnership “a perfect fit.”

President Broderick noted, “There are so many areas where ODU and WHRO can contribute meaningfully to help solve the challenges facing Hampton Roads. Cathy knows the region and its issues well and the partnership allows both organizations to develop initiatives in collaboration with the community.”

Assisting Travis and Lewis will be an Office of Community Engagement advisory board, composed of community and university representatives, whose first charge will be to conduct a needs assessment of critical issues facing the region.

In the interim, the university has come up with some initial topics to explore and, in an effort to jump-start this critical-issues collaboration, the Darden College of Education, led by new dean Linda Irwin-DeVitis, hosted an education summit on Oct. 8. Educators and administrators from around the region met on campus to discuss important issues affecting early childhood education.