Have you ever heard the term ‘catchment area’? It can be an area for surface runoff for a drainage area. It can also be an area of a town or city where a population exists that connects to institutions that are in close proximity. We think about the latter when we do community engagement work in the Baltimore region.

Over the last several years Towson University has made great strides institutionalizing and aligning community engagement work by our students, staff, and faculty. A significant part of these efforts is to coordinate with our engagement partners at other universities in the region. We encourage the TU community to connect on any engagement projects they are interested in through rapport building and by following community-based research principles. (BTW…we are happy to help anyone through this process!) But are you thinking about working with folks in West Baltimore? What about Mandawmin? How about the Morgan Mile? If so, great. A good first step is to consult with the TU engagement ecosystem, the Office of Partnerships and Outreach, as well as the Office of Civic Engagement and Social Responsibility to see if there are already projects occurring through the BTU Database. We are connectors for engagement projects, not gatekeepers. We do want to be strategic in our engagement work so check in with us!

So, if you are thinking about doing engagement work in Baltimore and the surrounding region, we like to check in with our collaborators at area institutions to make them aware of possible research and other opportunities to work together. In other words, if we are working in the backyard of Coppin State, Morgan State, the University of Maryland Baltimore, and other institutions we have an ethos of checking in to see what they may be working on in various neighborhoods or with nonprofits or community groups. What we do know is that TU is there. We are working here, there, and everywhere for the public good.

Engagement for the public good

One of the welcomed developments with the naming of Dr. Perman as chancellor for the University System of Maryland was that community engagement became a priority for the USM. The strategic plan for TU has engagement and working for the public good as a priority for our campus as well. Our friends and colleagues at the University of Maryland Baltimore have a great team and are doing great things. Engagement practitioners at all our campuses communicate regularly and there are opportunities to convene as seen with our hosting of the USM Civic Engagement Symposium this past fall at TU. What we have learned over time is that communication is key. And, while there are multiple projects occurring in the system, our work with the University of Maryland Baltimore is worth noting. UMB is unique in that they have a brick-and-mortar community engagement center (CEC) where numerous engagement activities are in motion. Check their website. They have a great team and are doing great things.

Partnerships between TU and UMB

Even during the COVID epidemic we were making connections to ensure that we were all doing coordinated and strategic work over the past few years. Recently, representatives from the Office of Partnerships and Outreach and the StarTUp at the Armory had the opportunity to visit UMB in January, tour their amazing Community Engagement Center, meet their team, and explore possible connection points between TU and UMB. This was a follow up on the UMB team coming to visit us at the StarTUp last semester. We are sharing data, ideas, plans and even somewhat boring but necessary infrastructure. Possible future collaborations revolve around entrepreneurship, local buying—particularly related to the Vendor Fair being held at TU in June, and community engagement/volunteer trainings. We also have made significant progress on health and wellness initiatives, where we already have great traction.

Briana Snyder, committed to teaching and engagement work

Briana Snyder, she/her/hers, Associate Professor & Graduate Program Director

Dr. Briana Snyder (College of Health Professions, Department of Nursing) is well known on the TU campus. Along with four other colleagues, she was recognized in 2021 by the TU Magazine as one of our “Faces on the Frontline” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since then, Dr. Snyder is just one of the many exemplars of committed teaching and engagement work. She has also collaborated with our USM partner, UMB. Along other practitioners, Dr. Snyder has been assisting with nurse-led public health interventions at the UMB community engagement center offering services to Baltimore residents. We asked Dr. Snyder to tell us about how she came to this work:

When I was a new tenure-track faculty member, a seasoned nursing faculty colleague told me about a service opportunity in Baltimore. I started volunteering in the free nurses’ clinic at Paul’s Place Outreach in Pigtown with Dr. Kelly Doran in 2018. In 2021, Dr. Doran became the Director of Health and Wellness at the UMB Community Engagement Center about a mile down the road, and I along with other nurse volunteers transitioned to the new health suite there along with her. Since it was during the height of the COVID pandemic, most of our initial work was outdoors. We walked around West Baltimore with wagons and iPads, knocking on doors and chatting with folks on the street about the newly-released COVID vaccine. We provided education and dispelled myths about the vaccine, registered people for vaccine appointments on the spot, and directed folks to services. We handed out hand sanitizer, masks, pamphlets, and other supplies. Once the pandemic had plateaued and most folks were vaccinated, we transitioned indoors and began seeing neighbors in the Health Suite for a multitude of needs.

We currently provide blood pressure and diabetes screenings, first aid, wound care, case management, assistance with finding specialty healthcare providers and signing up for health insurance, health education, and more. We assess for social determinants of health and connect people with resources like free food delivery services, mobility services, legal services, employment assistance, and safe housing. We also provide outreach services in the West Baltimore community. My favorite activity at the CEC is visiting the nearby senior housing sites to lead chair exercise classes for the residents and provide blood pressure screenings and education for them.

Personally, I find this type of service especially rewarding because I am able to spend time using my nursing expertise to help populations who are extremely vulnerable and often overlooked and ignored by our healthcare system. Since there is no pressure with regards to payment or insurance reimbursement, I can take my time and build rapport with folks to really understand their needs and their goals. Volunteer service is an expectation of professional nurses, and I try to impress this upon my Towson University nursing students. I have had at least three of them come back to volunteer alongside me at the CEC after they graduated and began working as registered nurses. As an educator, it is an amazing feeling to see former students develop into mature, professional colleagues with such a strong sense of social justice and social responsibility. We are fortunate in Baltimore to be very heavily saturated with healthcare facilities and healthcare professionals, and we have such an incredible opportunity to share our gifts with our neighbors and community members in need.

We commend Dr. Snyder for this incredible engagement work in Baltimore with under-served populations. We also commend our colleagues at University of Maryland Baltimore for creating applied engagement opportunities and providing direct service in their catchment area as a campus. There is much work to be done and the more we collaborate strategically the better for our community engagement work at TU and for the USM. Stay tuned for more USM and TU engagement stories.