Community engagement is a critical UMB mission

August 5, 2015    |  

UMB President Jay A. Perman, MD, recently authored an op-ed in The Baltimore Sun on the importance of community engagement to the mission of the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Read an excerpt below; see the rest in The Baltimore Sun.

As the national media focused their gaze on Baltimore during riots provoked by the death of Freddie Gray, many of us who live and work in the city focused our attention on the oppressive poverty endemic in the communities beset by violence. Concentrated poverty has held generations of Baltimoreans hostage to crumbling neighborhoods, scarce services, poor health, high crime and widespread incarceration.

Anchor institutions like the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) have a critical role to play in lifting populations out of poverty. Engagement with the community has long been a critical mission at UMB, and we operate expansive outreach programs doing a great deal of good. But UMB has an opportunity now — an obligation — to examine exactly how we should apply our knowledge and assets to achieve the greatest impact on health and wealth in West Baltimore.

Achieving impact takes focus, so we're concentrating our efforts in the West Baltimore neighborhoods closest to campus, and we're establishing a physical presence dedicated to community engagement. This fall, UMB's urban extension center will begin providing direct services to community residents — health screenings and referrals, tutoring, GED preparation and legal advice. Our human resources department will have an outpost at the center to show residents jobs available at UMB, to prepare them for the work, and to help them apply. We've asked for funding to deploy our Wellmobile every week in West Baltimore to provide primary and preventive care to residents who struggle to access high-quality health services.

We'll study programs newly underway to determine whether they merit scaling: a mentoring program that prepares students for high-paying jobs in the health sciences, a program that connects — or reconnects — students' parents to the job market, a training program that helps local businesses compete for the millions of dollars UMB spends each year on products and services. And we'll engage our neighbors in shared problem-solving, doing the tough research on complicated issues that underpin inequity and helping residents advocate for the policies and programs that will end it for good.

This kind of work is important to helping residents take advantage of economic opportunity, but it cannot, on its own, stimulate the significant economic development that West Baltimore desperately needs.

Read more in The Baltimore Sun.