UM Professor Receives National Award for Community Engagement Work

May 07, 2018

Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock with UM Associate Professor Laurie Walker just before Walker received the Ernest A. Lynton Award.MISSOULA – University of Montana Associate Professor Laurie A. Walker received national recognition for integrated and community-engaged teaching, research and service with a 2017 Ernest A. Lynton Award.

The award is named after a professor who had a vision for universities responding to local issues by collaborating with diverse interdisciplinary communities. It is sponsored by the Swearer Center at Brown University and the Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities.

The Swearer Center designates the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification for universities, and UM is one of 361 U.S. campuses to receive the classification.

Walker received the award and presented on “Effective Partnerships with Native American Communities: Stories from Montana” at the CUMU annual conference in October 2017. The conference was held in Denver, Colorado, and Walker is an alumnus of the University of Denver. The presentation acknowledged many UM Native American students, staff and faculty who relationally influenced Walker’s understanding of how to engage diverse individuals and communities in teaching, research and university committee work.

Walker’s teaching, research and service have a strong focus on diversity and inclusivity, which also are core values at UM and have resulted in numerous collaborations and opportunities.

“Professor Walker engages students with genuine interest, expresses confidence in them and works to build relationships, furthering their decolonizing work and empowering students to become co-creators of knowledge,” an award nominator said. “The impacts of Professor Walker’s community engagement work have reverberated across the campus and broader communities, creating and sustaining positive change.”

Walker presented the keynote address at the Swearer Center on April 24, describing a community engagement framework that builds partnerships to develop empathy and understand other perspectives. The strengths-based approach centers on historically underrepresented groups working toward justice on their own terms and includes an analysis of identities, power and awareness of the systemic causes of issues.  

Through Walker’s commitment to anti-oppressive and decolonizing teaching methods critically examining issues related to power, privilege and oppression, students have learned from one another and developed their own theoretical approach, capabilities and social justice interests.

One student project includes the documentary “When They Were Here,” which began as a classroom project in a graduate-community, intervention-focused course. The documentary, directed by UM students and siblings Ivan and Ivy MacDonald, interviewed family and community members of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in Montana.

The documentary was screened at UM; the Montana State University campuses in Billings, Bozeman and Great Falls campuses; Portland State University; the Crow Agency; and the Montana Campus Compact Civic Engagement Conference. Ivan MacDonald credits Walker with laying a foundation for the work by actively engaging in decolonization in educational and research processes.

The Campus Compact presentation was co-presented with the MacDonalds and first-year UM student Marita Growing Thunder. Growing Thunder, featured in the documentary, founded the “Save Our Sisters” advocacy project while a senior in high school. The students have received press coverage of their documentary in regional and campus newspapers and hope to create a more formal production of the documentary film in collaboration with their community partners in fall 2018.

The Montana Campus Compact office works with tribal college partners across the state. As a result of the Campus Compact presentation, Walker and Ivan MacDonald also have worked with the UM Civic Engagement and Montana Campus Compact offices to build a framework for their teaching, training and community engagement work that centers Native American perspectives.

Walker’s research diligently includes community members in research design, data collection, literature review and data analysis and often includes students as co-authors to have the greatest impact. The most recent scholarship focuses on understanding the causes of over-incarceration of Native American women in prison and their re-entry needs.

Walker’s current research is in collaboration with UM interdisciplinary students, UM’s Margery Hunter Brown Indian Law Clinic and Montana Justice Initiative, the Salish Kootenai Tribal Defender’s Office, a newly formed local holistic defense nonprofit, the Montana Department of Corrections, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council.

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Contact: Colleen Kane, associate director of community engagement and student programs, UM Office for Civic Engagement, 406-243-5128, colleen.kane@mso.umt.edu.