Gil ConchasName:  Gilberto Q. Conchas

Title: Professor of Education and Director, UCI Engage

Years of service at UCI: 15

Q: Tell me about the recently launched UCI Engage website

A: The UCI Engage website is a collaboratively built tool to support community-engaged research and teaching. The website contains a database of more than 200 existing UCI programs and initiatives that feature community-engaged faculty research and teaching.  The website is organized by ‘Areas of Engagement’ so community members can explore and connect with UCI-based programs and initiatives and read stories about the ways faculty and community collaborate to solve some of the world’s grand challenges. Visitors can also browse by School / Unit or Population / Focus Area.

Q: Can you briefly describe your position as the UCI Engage Faculty Director?

A: I will provide academic leadership to the campus’ new “UCI Engage” institutional hub, which will provide services, information, and coordination for UCI’s community engagement activities. In addition, I will help expand and showcase our existing strengths in engaged teaching and learning, community-based research, and co-curricular programs while broadening and increasing the impact of our work.

Q: What made you interested in this role?

A:  I am committed to community-based research and teaching.  My practice-based research focuses on developing solutions that address the roots of social problems facing marginalized communities.  This role allows me to accelerate the innovation of UCI’s community engagement efforts in collaboration with faculty, staff, students and community partners. I want to be part of these important and significant partnerships and continue to promote inclusive excellence.

Q: What are the main objectives of UCI Engage?

A: UCI Engage was established to support and highlight faculty in community-engaged research and teaching and to foster connections between community organizations, government officials, and individuals who would like to connect with faculty initiatives that support causes that matter to local communities.

UCI Engage will support and enhance the campus wide culture of community engagement. For example, we have already begun to recognize and learn from faculty who are already doing their research and teaching within a paradigm of engaged scholarship. I am pleased to be working with many of these faculty to develop and offer workshops and mentoring on engaged teaching and to coordinate our future in this area. There is no doubt that truly reciprocal partnerships involving communities, students and faculty lead to outcomes that are beneficial to all of these groups. UCI Engage is in addition to the many mechanisms UCI employs to have a meaningful impact in alignment with our public service mission.

Q: What advice do you have for faculty members or staff who want to make an impact in the community?

A: I would advise they follow their passions, recognize the value of great partnerships, and engage with the needs of our local communities. This strategy worked for me. Let me explain. In my research, I show how social capital is important for marginalized communities. It was important for me to recognize that, not only could I bring knowledge and institutional resources to local communities, but I can learn so much from them, and that exposure makes me a better teacher and researcher. I encourage my colleagues to take the first step. There are so many ways to engage, regardless of your academic discipline.

Q: How would you describe UCI’s campus culture? How can we capitalize on this?

A: UCI historically has had strong ties to Irvine and the surrounding region. With hundreds of community partnerships in full swing on a regular basis, I’d say we have a really good culture of engagement. But, we can always do more. One step toward building on our culture of engagement is to make our internal and external communities aware of what we are already doing and how to access and align with all the existing programs and initiatives.

Q: How do you think UCI Engage fits into UCI’s mission as a leading public university?

A: UCI is committed to our community and to being a great partner and neighbor. UCI’s strategic plan calls for the institution to be a “Great Partner.” As a land grant institution, our mission is to promote the good of the public. UCI is poised for a transformational undertaking on how teaching, research and service are relevant and useful to the citizens of California, the nation and the world in the context of partnerships and reciprocity.

Q: Do you have a mentor? If so, what is the best advice they have given you?

A: My mother has always been my greatest mentor. She had no formal schooling but, through her experience as a Mexican immigrant mother raising five children, she is wise beyond what formal education can provide. The best advice she gave me was to always work on behalf of our people, “nuestra gente,” and give back to those people and the institutions that led to my own mobility and that of my siblings.

I hope I have made my mother proud in that my research and teaching are for and about the success of all students, especially those with the greatest needs such as those in poverty, immigrants, or to those who identify as LGBTQ or under-represented minorities, to name a few. This is especially important during our current political climate where many student populations are targets of discrimination and further marginalization.

Q: What is something we might not know about you?

A:  I love to hike (well, walk at Crystal Cove), love my dogs Charlie and Bentley, and I make the best tomatillo salsa—come try some.

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