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1st Year Reflection: Navigating Community Engagement

By By Phoenix Chang-Rope
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Navigating Community Engagement

In your experience thus far, what have you learned about effectively engaging with and supporting a community that you do not specifically belong to?

I was thrilled to learn I had earned an internship with the Quad Innovation Alliance my junior year of college. It was an opportunity to collaborate with other students from Colorado College, as well as U.S. Air Force Academy, Pikes Peak Community College (now Pikes Peak State College) and University of Colorado Colorado Springs on research consulting projects for local partner organizations. However, I was surprised when I found out my team’s project was to research organizational resilience in nonprofits and microbusinesses. I knew very little about the topic and worried about how our team’s limited experience might impact our ability to deliver useful results.

The most helpful sources of information throughout the process were the interviews we conducted with local organizations. They provided a deeper understanding of what it means to be resilient beyond the textbook dos and don’ts. Business owners pointed us toward resources within the community we didn’t know existed and nonprofits highlighted how they pivoted based on their community’s needs during the pandemic. For me, this reaffirmed the idea that problem solving should be rooted in the impacted communities.

I still wondered: Would it be better to step back and allow those within the local nonprofit and business communities to do the work that they knew best? As we compiled more information, I better understood the value of my role in the process. Even though many organizations and businesses had a wealth of knowledge, they did not always have the time or platform to share it with other organizations. While I still believe it is important to question and consider how your involvement impacts the community you want to serve, I now acknowledge how little would get done without a broad network of support. Through my internship, I learned how to thoughtfully engage by listening to what people needed from me. In this case, it was compiling information, finding patterns and sharing the results. I hope these realizations will help me continue to be active and intentional in my future community engagement.

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