Empowering the USD Community

USD Associate Professor Odesma Dalrymple


When it comes to confronting humanity’s urgent challenges, the University of San Diego’s goal is not more of the same but developing dramatic and innovative approaches to issues such as climate change, homelessness and social justice.

As part of its Strategic Initiatives effort, USD has made grants totaling $1.5 million over the past four years, funding 30 projects. The effort so far culminated in a summit held virtually in the spring of 2020.

“While the university’s Envisioning 2024 strategic plan provides a roadmap for the ways that USD is uniquely situated to confront humanity’s urgent challenges, the Strategic Initiatives funding process has empowered the campus community to not only develop initiatives that focus on specific issues but also help collaborate in ways to enhance the collective impact of our efforts,” says Mike Williams, professor of political science and director of USD’s Changemaker Hub.

The Nonprofit Institute at USD, for example, is focused on the Environment and Social Justice Leadership Hub to address climate change and environmental degradation. Over the past year, it facilitated hands-on internships with students at local San Diego organizations and launched a series of on-campus events to engage the USD community.

“We envision the hub as a vital source of collaboration to generate solutions to environmental problems, advance the health of our planet and build a strong and just society,” says Emily Young, the institute’s executive director.

One of the most far-reaching initiatives is the Engineering Exchange for Social Justice, a hub to help build teams to find just solutions to community challenges by applying not just technology but also cultural, historical and political knowledge.

The exchange includes a number of innovative projects such as Clear Blue Sea to remove plastic pollution from the oceans and Waste for Life to help communities develop products from the waste they collect.

Another project with the Viejas Band of the Kumeyaay Nation brings together engineering students and Kumeyaay youngsters to collaborate and share cultural knowledge in a Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) Lab.

Formation of the program, inspired by science shop models in the Netherlands, was in the works for some time, but it was only with the startup funding from the Strategic Initiatives program and support from the university’s Karen and Tom Mulvaney Center for Community, Awareness and Social Action (CASA) that the Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering was able “to officially launch the program and establish a robust infrastructure to support its mission,” says Associate Professor Odesma Dalrymple (pictured).

Another initiative, Mapping the Pathways, creates a visual database of the many projects USD is engaged with in the San Diego region and beyond.

“Our ability to track and map out our efforts not only helps USD broadcast and assess what we are up to, it also helps break down institutional silos, giving the USD community the opportunity to work more collaboratively and enabling USD to offer our community partners innovative and interdisciplinary approaches to engagement,” explains John Loggins, CASA’s director of Community Engaged Learning. — Liz Harman

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