Return to site

Growing Pains and Spectacular Failures in Community Engagement

By Lily Rand

When people think of USD, the word 'changemaking' often comes to mind. While many members of the USD community are passionate about social change, that does not mean that all of their efforts go according to plan.

On March 29th, There’s More partnered with the Mulvaney Center for Community, Awareness, and Social Action and The Office of the Tribal Liaison to explore this very idea. The theme, “Growing Pains and Spectacular Failures in Community Engagement” was crafted to demonstrate the messy and sometimes uncomfortable lessons learned in community engagement work.

broken image

The night kicked off with a humorous story titled “Not Even Clipboards” by Dr. Laura Rivard, a Teaching Professor of Biology. She spent a summer volunteering for the group Kupanda Kids, which assists refugee children in San Diego. The summer was filled with various field trips that provoked chaos, near-death experiences, and cultural misunderstandings. Dr. Rivard was unsure if she wanted to continue the work. But, when one asked her “are we going to go on fun trips again next summer?”, her answer was undoubtedly, “of course we are.”

broken image

Dr. Danell Scarborough, lecturer in the School of Leadership and Education Sciences, spoke to these growing pains in her story called “But, But, I’m A Good Person”. When serving as the Executive Director of the Citizens Review Board for the City of San Diego, Dr. Scarborough faced lots of pushpack, complaints, and even requests for her termination. Yet, support and trust from her supervisors encouraged her to persist. She reflects that community engagement is not always rewarding or even successful, but nevertheless important.

broken image

The evening continued with a reflective account from the Executive Director of USD’s Nonprofit Institute, Dr. Emily Young. Titled “Resilience and Rethinking The Impossible”, she ponders the question of how humans alter the natural world for our resilience and survival, or destroy it to precipitate our own demise. Her stance is that the greatest change comes from what is happening locally, and feels that tackling the issue of climate change can start right here in San Diego.

broken image

Our last speaker was Sarah Diamond, who works as the Associate Director of Prevention Education in the Center for Health and Wellness Promotion. The title of “Dropping the Ball” examined all her past experiences in which she did just that. In all of these instances, Diamond prioritized proving herself knowledgeable to her clients rather than listening to the needs of the communities she was working in. In a powerful conclusion, Diamond reveals allies must not overstep in community engagement efforts, but instead highlight and support the work already being done in those communities.

These four storytellers are seen as leaders in community engagement not just at USD, but throughout the greater San Diego area. It just goes to show that sometimes the best lessons are learned not from our greatest successes, but from our biggest challenges.

To learn more about the Mulvaney Center for Community, Awareness, and Social Action, please visit 

To learn more about The Office of the Tribal Liaison, please visit 

All photos by John Loggins, Director of Community Engaged Learning in the Mulvaney Center for Community, Awareness, and Social Action.