2001 Plymouth Avenue North
Minneapolis, MN 55411
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A University hub in the heart of Minneapolis
Throughout its 150-year history, the University of Minnesota has reached out to communities across the state to share knowledge, consistent with its land-grant mission of vigorous engagement in teaching, research, and outreach for the public good.
The University’s Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center in North Minneapolis reaffirms and reinvigorates the land-grant mission for an urban age. The collaborative research facility at Penn
and Plymouth Avenues, located in the heart of one of the state’s most
diverse, culturally vibrant, and economically challenged communities, anchors and strengthens the University’s long-term commitment to urban neighborhoods.
The development of the University of Minnesota Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center began in 2005 as a result of informal conversations between Mayor R.T. Rybak and then-University President Bob Bruininks about how the University might join with the city to tackle the complex problems that faced North Minneapolis, one of the most underserved communities in the metro area.
This coincided with the University’s recruitment of Dante Cicchetti, a world-renowned expert in developmental psychology who conducts groundbreaking work on family mental health aimed at reversing the negative effects of poverty, neglect, and other problems facing challenged communities (including helping families avoid out-of-home placement of children into foster care).
Cicchetti went on to to hold an endowed chair in the College of Education and Community Development but without direct connection to UROC. For a time, however, community interest in—and debate about—his work (see related FAQ for the University Northside Partnership, PDF file) spurred a vigorous process of community engagement that would prove important to UROC’s development. In focus groups and community meetings, varied constituents in North Minneapolis participated in wide-ranging dialogues as well as formal votes. Representatives from the City of Minneapolis and Hennepin County joined these discussions.
In 2006, University of Minnesota Senior Vice President Robert Jones oversaw the creation of the University Northside Partnership as the convening mechanism to bring together community organizations based in North Minneapolis, city and county representatives, faith-based leaders, and University faculty and staff. The goal was a broad-based partnership to build stronger and healthier neighborhoods—a partnership that would build on existing community assets, tie together community and university expertise and resources, and leverage these efforts with city and county services and resources to realize a strong urban vision of community revitalization.
Towards the end of 2006, building on the foundation of the University Northside Partnership, Senior Vice President Jones led the University’s development of the Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC) as the interface between the University and community to achieve mutual goals closely aligned with community interests and needs.
UROC increases the University’s ability to respond to repeated requests from North Minneapolis that the University facilitate collaborative projects, make its research and services more accessible, and allow for a more productive sharing of expertise and resources among community residents and organizations and University faculty, staff, and students.
This direction is consistent with the suggestions and recommendations that emerged from the University’s Urban Agenda Taskforce. The task force made clear that as one of the few large public research universities in the country located in a major metropolitan area, the University is committed to working to leverage its academic resources—in partnership with local communities, government, and the business sector—to resolve complex contemporary issues of the urban area.
In November 2007, UROC’s first executive director, Irma McClaurin, was hired. The final transactions to secure the former shopping center at 2001 Plymouth Avenue N. as UROC’s home were completed in February 2008. The building opened its doors in September 2009, with a grand opening in May 2010.
Senior Vice President Jones named an interim executive team to guide UROC planning following the grand opening. Professors Heidi Barajas, Rose Brewer, and Geoffrey Maruyama served on the team through March 2011. Following a search coordinated by a community-University committee, Barajas was named to the ongoing post of executive director.
UROC’s mission is to link the University of Minnesota in vital public partnership with urban communities to advance learning, improve quality of life, and discover breakthrough solutions to critical problems. The UROC building provides University faculty and staff with office space in North Minneapolis for collaborative outreach and research programs reflecting community-identified priorities in the areas of education and training, family and community health, and economic development.
Programs work toward specific goals in areas such as early childhood education, health disparities, health career development, youth development through the arts, youth development, nutrition, and other areas. The UROC-based Broadband Access Project, a $3.6-million University of Minnesota initiative, links the University in partnership with 11 Twin Cities organizations to close the digital divide in underserved urban communities.
UROC’s initial development reflects a substantial financial commitment from the University. A $750,000 grantover three years from the federal Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education (FIPSE) also served as the jumpstart to make UROC a reality, emphasizing community engagement around the themes of out-of-school time, healthy foods, and youth entrepreneurship.
Multipurpose space in the UROC collaborative research facility provides opportunities for many University units and community organizations to work and carry out programming on the North Side. With its emphasis on community-university partnerships and its mix of
researchers representing many fields, perspectives, and methodologies, UROC is a catalyst for innovative collaboration addressing urban challenges that defy neat boundaries.
In September 2011, the center kicked off its third year in North Minneapolis with a communitywide event attended by President Eric Kaler as part of his inauguration week activites.
The University continues to seek partners from many sectors who will
advance UROC’s work toward its long-term vision: measurable success in improving quality of life in North Minneapolis, new models of community development, and new best practices in university teaching and learning.
The University of Minnesota UROC building at Plymouth and Penn avenues in North Minneapolis is open Monday–Friday
from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.