Margaret Stout, associate professor of public administration, has been named the 2016 WVU Eberly College Outstanding Public Service award winner, but says the real credit belongs to the 69 students who have participated in service learning projects and the communities she works with to make meaningful changes.
Stout and her students work in small rural towns or urban neighborhoods, particularly those with many low-income and minority residents. Each project is designed to help the community move along a proven developmental path from mobilizing and organizing, to visioning and planning, to program and project implementation, anticipating ongoing evaluation. Each step includes capacity building and participatory practice with the motto “working with, not for the community.”
“In reflection, deep involvement in community development work can be very messy and challenging. As one student said, teams ‘become like families’ embedded in the community, with all the dynamics these relationships infer,” said Stout. “We share the frustrations of community conflicts and failures along with celebrations of success.”
Stout says her work contributes in a meaningful way to WVU’s Land Grant mission, helping to create a human resource pipeline for community development in the state. Her ongoing public service goal is to build local governance capacity and help create a stronger, more integrated system of community development in the state through the combined efforts of numerous WVU outreach and service learning programs, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations.
“Margaret is the unusual academic who understands how to be an effective practitioner in the field. She has shown the ability to work with county and city governments (the public sector), businesses (the private sector), and non-profit organizations such as the Hub (the civic sector),” said Kent Spellman, West Virginia Community Development Hub executive director. “In doing so, she has brought value to communities by helping them build their capacity for effective improvement, and has strengthened her non-profit partners through her strategic thinking and deep understanding of the sector.”
Each semester, Stout and her students make three service learning visits to conduct field research, meet with stakeholders, and engage the community in planning and development activities. Each day ends with guided reflection that is captured by each student in fieldwork journals. When teams have to stay overnight, the community provides homestay or cabin accommodations that develop strong bonds among team members. When not completing work assignments, the team participates in community barbecues, school sporting events and street decorating, fundraising competitions, holiday celebrations, meals at local restaurants, and parties with homestay hosts; experiences that are highly valued by students.
“It was very insightful, and actually somewhat amazing to me, how the class had, over three semesters, put together so much for the community. It seems like a sort of alchemy, the way Dr. Stout and the graduate students enrolled in the class took information and input from residents and made tangible deliverables for the community,” said Andrew Benjamin, forestry graduate student.
Recipients of this award are listed on a plaque in Woodburn Hall on the WVU Downtown Campus, and are awarded $1,000 to pursue professional development opportunities.