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Outreach Encompasses Three Mission Components

By Sara Baker and Catherine Doss

Spectrum Volume 20 Issue 23 - March 5, 1998

(Editor's note: This is part one in a series of articles about outreach at Virginia Tech. Future articles will highlight the various units within the Outreach Division: public service, continuing education, international research and development, economic development, and distance learning. A final article will focus on Extension and its critical role in the outreach mission.)
Outreach is most often associated with the service component of Virginia Tech's tripartite land-grant mission of teaching, research, and service. However, the modern-day concept of outreach at this university is a cross-cutting function in which faculty members are involved in outreach teaching and research as well as outreach service. This article will put outreach in a historical context and provide rationale for the Outreach Division's all-encompassing role.
Outreach is defined as the transfer and exchange of knowledge and experience between the institution and society. As a program concept, outreach is relatively new in higher education. Its antecedent is found in the land-grant movement of the 19th century in which selected public institutions were founded on the mission of service to society.
"But today, the outreach mission must be more than words on paper," said Dixon Hanna, interim vice provost for outreach. "Its seed is in the realization that public higher education must actually re-commit its resources and expertise to help meet society's needs."
Virginia Tech, like most public institutions, is experiencing increased scrutiny of the benefits it provides the taxpayers who support it. Outreach plays a key role in Virginia Tech's effort to build a stronger relationship with the people of Virginia and beyond. "Quality outreach programming also helps the university re-position itself with the citizens of the state and nation and assist in linking them to knowledge resources, solving problems, and improving quality of life," Hanna said.
So what is quality outreach? Like all university activities, outreach is rooted in scholarship. It not only draws on the knowledge base developed through other forms of scholarship, but it also contributes to the university's knowledge base. Outreach is regarded to be of high quality when there is evidence that it has resulted in a beneficial impact, attributable, at least in part, to the application of relevant, up-to-date research knowledge to real-world needs, problems, issues, or concerns.
Following are examples of how outreach can be applied to each of the three components of Virginia Tech's mission:
Outreach Teaching--Outreach teaching is an extension of the campus instructional capacity through credit and non-credit courses, seminars, workshops, conferences, exhibits, and performances to off-campus or non-traditional audiences.
Outreach Research--Outreach research is an extension of the university's research capacity to non-academic audiences through such activities as research to solve a specific real-world problem (particularly that of a business or industry), technical assistance, demonstration projects, evaluation of ongoing programs, and technology transfer.
Outreach service--Outreach service extends specific expertise to serve society at large rather than serve the university or a specific faculty profession. This may include participation on advisory boards and technology transfer.
Recently Virginia Tech's Outreach Division awarded seed grants for 39 proposed outreach initiatives at the university.
"Grants were awarded in each college and several other academic and administrative units and reflect the breadth and depth of outreach programs within the university," Hanna said.
Outreach programs at Virginia Tech range from large divisions such as Virginia Cooperative Extension to focused college and interdisciplinary centers such as the Community Design Assistance Center, operated by the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, and the Business/Technology Center, supported in part by the Pamplin College of Business. These programs may be formally or informally administered and include both activities that are offered free and those that carry a fee.
The Outreach Division at Virginia Tech is comprised of these units: Public Service Programs, the Division of Continuing Education, Economic Development, Distance Learning, and the Office of International Research and Development. Future articles in the "Focus on Outreach" series will feature each of these units and will look at how they contribute to the overall outreach mission of the university.