The idea of connecting university classrooms to real-world problems is not new and there are many successful programs doing this type of work. Most efforts, however, are one-off projects that develop through personal relationships between a faculty member and a city staff person. It is common for some universities to have multiple faculty engaging in real world projects, but doing so separately and independently from one another and possibly with different municipal partners. Coordinating such engagement across a university and directing this larger scale of effort to a single city over an entire year radically changes the impact.
12 Key Tenets of the EPIC Framework
This is a university and community partnership – Projects are identified by the community and only go forward after an iterative process between key community stakeholders and faculty where they jointly agree to a scope of work that satisfies both community and educational needs. Thus, this model is done with communities as full partners;
The program utilizes existing courses – On the university side, the program is largely based on courses that already exist, taught by instructors already scheduled to teach those classes, and assignments or course projects already part of the course structure;
The program is scaled for impact – The partnership must be at a sufficient scale of activity that its presence is felt in the community and on campus, in both quantity and across disciplines;
It is based on faculty opting-in – Participation by faculty is voluntary and participating one year does not commit anyone to a subsequent year (although most faculty choose to remain involved). Frequently, participating in the program makes teaching applied courses actually easier, as there is a coordinator finding projects, bringing partners to the table, and organizing logistics. This is a ultimately a bottom-up process within the university;
Community partners are chosen through a deliberative selection process –EPIC is not exclusively focused on the host city of the university and facilitates academic institutions to serve a broader geographical region and diverse set of communities, cities, metropolitan regions, or rural areas. Becoming a community partner is a competitive process for which a deliberative selection process ensures commitment and readiness;
Projects are defined by university and community consensus – project ideas are finalized through an iterative match-making process between faculty and local government (or private sector or nonprofit) staff where ideas are jointly proposed and only those that meet each other’s needs go forward;
There is a purposeful advancing of the social good as a core principal in this model – these partnerships have a social agenda and address important societal issues such as sustainability, public health, social equity, economic development, general community quality of life or other pressing issues of concern appropriate to the municipality’s needs and university’s capacity;
Students are actively engaged in the endeavor – this is a program that taps students at a massive scale, in their courses, to provide insight, ideas, and political space for local decision-making;
The program is multidisciplinary in approach – EPIC is a multicourse, multidiscipline approach toward learning and catalyzing community change. The scale allows a broader engagement of community stakeholders and decision makers and creates buzz on and off campus in ways that are often not possible with single, isolated course approaches;
There is a defined geographic focus – the key to an EPIC program is that it harnesses multiple courses across campus and directs them to a single, geographically-defined place, whether that is an entire small to medium sized city, a smaller subsection of a large city, key transit corridors, a port, or a Native American reservation;
There is a defined time limit to the partnership – the partnership ends, typically after one or two years and then another university partner is engaged. Because projects have to be part of existing municipal workplans, the work generated during the partnership continues to help guide community decision-making after the formal partnership ends;
There is a mutual investment by the city and university – Cities that participate must have financial “skin in the game” to ensure professional engagement, quality products, and a coordinated approach.