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JMU launches Madison Center for Community Development

Madison Center for Community Development
Dr. Nick J. Swartz, associate professor of public policy and administration, serves as director of the new Madison Center for Community Development, a resource for local governments and community organizations in Virginia.

James Madison University has launched the Madison Center for Community Development, a resource for local governments and community organizations in the Shenandoah Valley and throughout Virginia.

The center will draw on the expertise of JMU faculty and students to provide assistance with strategic planning, economic development, needs assessment, grants management, training and monitoring, program development and evaluation, and more.

A partnership among JMU’s School of Public and International Affairs, the Office of Outreach and Engagement, and the Office of Research and Scholarship, the Madison Center for Community Development is located on the third floor of the Ice House in downtown Harrisonburg.

The center’s director, associate professor of public policy and administration Dr. Nick J. Swartz, was presented with the official charter during Madison’s annual Public Service Reception on May 5. During his remarks, JMU President Jonathan Alger held up the new center as an example of civic and community engagement, two of the pillars of JMU’s strategic plan.

“The key to these types of projects is reciprocity, a mutually beneficial partnership between the organization and our faculty and students,” Alger said. “This new universitywide center will help to further the university’s mission of becoming the national model of the engaged university.”

The center will build on the Master of Public Administration program’s successful Partners in Community Leadership initiative, which was established in 2009. Since that time, JMU students and faculty have assisted the neighboring towns of Elkton and Dayton with their economic development plans and led program evaluations for a variety of community organizations including Big Brothers Big Sisters, Mercy House, North End Greenway, Rockingham County Schools, Shenandoah Valley Partnership, Climate Action Alliance of the Valley, and United Way of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County.

“For many of us, the interest in civic and community engagement stems from the belief that universities have a real responsibility to use our knowledge and resources to benefit our local communities,” said Dr. Liliokanaio Peaslee, assistant professor of political science and a core faculty member in the MPA program. “However, just as important are the opportunities that such engagement provides for faculty to conduct meaningful research that helps sustain us here, as well as opportunities to enhance student learning through things like internships, graduate assistantships and class-based community research projects.”

As a graduate assistant in the MPA program, Courtland Robinson conducted a program evaluation for the Shenandoah Valley Partnership, a regional economic development organization housed at JMU. “This type of outreach is a mantra for our program,” he said. “We’re here to study empirical problems in real communities and work alongside practitioners to help them achieve solutions.”

Robinson, a May graduate, is now the assistant economic development director for the city of Staunton.

“There’s a lot of need out there for assistance, and I think this new center is a great resource for nonprofits and local governments,” Robinson said. “It takes a lot to step outside of the box and ask a group to assess where you’re at and your performance. But I think leaders in this area want to be proactive.”

Swartz has received calls from community organizations across Virginia requesting the types of services that the Madison Center for Community Development will provide. “This new center will facilitate the continued and expanded development of community-based research and learning and mutually beneficial partnerships to forge even stronger relationships between JMU and the broader community,” he said. “I’m excited to move this new initiative forward.”

For more information, contact Dr. Nick J. Swartz at (540) 568-5272 or swartznj@jmu.edu.

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By Jim Heffernan ('96), JMU Public Affairs

June 10, 2014