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Symposium celebrates Kirwan Institute’s 20th anniversary, future

Event chronicled institute’s history as a community partner

The Kirwan Institute for Race and Ethnicity at The Ohio State University marked its 20th anniversary with a Sept. 29 symposium exploring the impact that the organization’s research has had on communities in Ohio and nationwide. The symposium also offered a glimpse at the institute’s future.

Established in 2003, the Kirwan Institute is an interdisciplinary research organization named for former Ohio State President William E. “Brit” Kirwan, who attended the anniversary symposium. Kirwan Institute researchers, affiliated faculty, collaborators and community partners conduct research on education, health, employment, housing and other issues and policies that help create an inclusive society.

“We’re going to continue to connect people, places, organizations, ideas and movements,” said Kirwan Institute Executive Director Ange-Marie Hancock. “We’re storytellers who craft our community’s stories and possibilities.”

Kirwan Institue Executive Director Ange-Marie Hancock outlined the organization's strategic visioning process.The Kirwan Institute began drafting a new strategic vision in the spring. The strategic vision is scheduled to be completed this fall and will guide the institute’s work over the next decade, Hancock said.

“We are going to initiate some new ways to partner with communities,” she said. “We want to make sure that what we are doing is synergistic so that when we are partnering with a community – whether it’s Weinland Park, which we have partnered with in the past, whether it’s a new community like South of Main or another community in another state, in another country – we want to be able to say we have not only moved the needle, we want to have documented transformative change.”  

In addition to the strategic vision, Hancock said the Kirwan Institute has begun an oral history project to document the perspectives of individuals who have carried out and benefited from the institute’s work. The project kicked off with videotaped interviews with previous executive directors, including founding director john powell (who does not capitalize his name) and Jason Reece, who is now Ohio State’s vice provost for urban research and community engagement.

“The essence of when john founded the institute, there was a fearlessness to step outside of your traditional training and boundaries,” Reece said. “We always had to pay attention to how conditions and things were changing, not only societally but with our peers and other institutions in the public sector. We were a very nimble and adaptive organization from that perspective.”

Reece led a panel discussion that traced the Kirwan Institute’s history as a community partner. Through a partnership with the Columbus Department of Neighborhoods, Ohio State hosts Columbus high school students on campus each summer as part of the My Brother’s Keeper program. The students take part in educational activities centered on leadership, financial planning, entrepreneurship and community service.

The Kirwan Institute’s research helps city government determine where to allocate resources, said Carla Williams-Scott, director of the city of Columbus Department of Neighborhoods.

“The data tells us where the needs are,” she said.

Another panel discussion, moderated by Maurice Stevens, associate dean for engagement in Ohio State’s College of Arts and Sciences, chronicled outcomes of Kirwan Institute research in communities across the country.  

Mikyung Baek, a Kirwan Institute researcher, said the institute pioneered a statistical method known as opportunity mapping to pinpoint areas affected by issues such as infant mortality, unemployment and housing inequities.

“Your ZIP code tells a lot about you,” she said. “The resulting opportunity map can visually illustrate where opportunity lies and where opportunity lacks.”

Hasan Jeffries, an Ohio State history professor, said he was the first faculty member hired by the Kirwan Institute. He said his research benefited from the institute’s multidisciplinary approach.

“It’s always been good about bringing people in,” he said. “That’s part of the beauty of Ohio State, as well – we have so many people in so many different areas of expertise. We tap people here and there to bring them in. … Once they’re at the table, then you see the expertise and the perspective that results in imagining something different.”

For more information about the Kirwan Institute for Race and Ethnicity, visit kirwaninstitute.osu.edu

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