Detroit Mercy hosts first Community Development Education Symposium

Detroit Mercy participants at the 2019 Community Development Education Symposium in Detroit pose for a photo.

The state of community development education is a hot topic among educators in the relatively new field.

It’s a major reason why the University of Detroit Mercy’s Master in Community Development program recently brought together top educators for the 2019 Community Development Education Symposium in Detroit.

“It brought together Community Development educators from across the country, which has never really been done before,” said Virginia Stanard, director of the Master of Community Development Program. “The field of community development and community development education is fairly new compared to other disciplines. Unlike other fields of study there’s not necessarily a set of shared standards, teaching practices or core curriculum. This was really the first time that educators came together to talk about the field, what they are teaching and how they are teaching.

“That was really exciting. I think there was a lot of energy from the participants because they haven’t had the opportunity to do that before.”

The Symposium is part of a three-year USDA/NIFA Higher Education Challenge Grant. The grant is a collaboration between the University of Kentucky, University of California-Davis and Detroit Mercy.

“One of the main objectives of the grant was to build a network of educators that would convene at the symposium and continue as an ongoing community of practice,” Stanard said.

“We were invited to participate in this grant based on our community engagement and social justice approach. And I think the fact that we’re in Detroit was really important because a lot of the community development programs across the country are in more rural settings or they focus more on rural community development. The team was really interested in our approach coming from an urban context.”

Detroit was a natural fit to host the first symposium because of the great community development work happening in the region.

“We intentionally held the symposium in different locations,” Stanard said. “One day was on our campus and another at the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation so the participants could learn about a local community development organization.

“We also held a dinner at Inside Southwest Detroit’s new community space designed by the Detroit Collaborative Design Center (DCDC) and one of our faculty members Tadd Heidgerken. The organization is led by MCD alumnus Erik Howard. It was a highlight to show off some of the work our school and alumni have been doing.”

People present at the 2019 Community Development Education Symposium in Detroit.Because the symposium was held in their home city, Detroit Mercy faculty were encouraged to attend and present.

“You could only come to the symposium if you were presenting work so no one was coming just to be an observer,” Stanard said. “We had strong representation from our faculty presenting peer-reviewed work.”

Ceara O’Leary, Professor of Practice and Co-Executive Director of the DCDC, also co-led the symposium with Stanard.

“The event was great because it got us thinking about recalibrating our curriculum and opportunities moving forward,” Stanard added. “It exposed us to other things going on at other schools. It’s going to be great to reconvene our faculty and try to apply some of things that we’ve learned. I’m excited about that.”

Stanard said the symposium was well received and they’re hopeful there will be more in the future.

“There was a lot of energy,” Stanard said. “I think people really appreciated the time and the space to talk about themes and issues they’re experiencing with their programs, and to discuss them with like-minded faculty from other schools. There was a wide range of topics covered like do we need to have core content and shared standards across all of these programs?

Should community development education be an accredited discipline? There were a lot of different topics covered.”

The symposium also brought community development educators from multiple disciplines together.

“The field of community development is splintered, for instance our program is housed in the School of Architecture. In other schools the community development program might be housed in the College of Agriculture or College of Business Administration. It’s an interdisciplinary field which is a strength, but it’s been difficult to unpack what all these different programs are doing,” Stanard said.

After the symposium was over, Detroit Mercy hosted a community development summit to break down what came out of it and how to move forward.

“The summit was an all-day, intensive meeting that took place following the symposium,” Stanard said. “It included 20 community development education leaders and we synthesized all of the discussions that occurred and put forth an action agenda with how we’re going to utilize this information. What came out of that were some priorities for a research agenda, future research that can be done to further this work.

“What also came out were some action items like maintaining a network and community of educators and administering mini grants to further this work. Obviously, the challenge will be implementing these actions.”

For more information about the Community Development Education Symposium please visit

For more information on Detroit Mercy’s Master of Community Development program please visit

— Original story by Dave Pemberton. Follow Detroit Mercy on Facebook, LinkedInTwitter and Instagram. Have a story idea? Let us know by submitting your idea.