Aching named one of Provost's Fellows for Public Engagement

September 21, 2016

Faculty members M. Diane Burton and Gerard Aching have been named the next Provost’s Fellows for Public Engagement.

In their roles, they will work with staff members in the Office of the Vice Provost and Office of Engagement Initiatives, and with administrators in Student and Campus Life, Undergraduate Education and Global Cornell, to contribute to the broad mission of public engagement at the university, with a focus on Engaged Cornell.

The fellows report to Vice Provost Judith Appleton, who announced the appointments.

“Gerard and Diane are wonderfully suited to their roles because of their academic backgrounds and scholarship,” Appleton said. “Gerard studies colonialism, and we’re delighted to have a faculty voice in public engagement who comes from the humanities. And Diane Burton is a social scientist who is very embedded in the business world and entrepreneurship, with a strong interest in the social sector.”

Said Provost Michael Kotlikoff: “Diane and Gerard bring compelling perspectives and disciplinary breadth that will help advance the university’s public engagement mission. The work they have done in the local community, across the state and in communities around the world is inspiring, and that experience will be a boon for our students and faculty.”

Burton is an associate professor in the ILR School whose research focuses on employment practices in entrepreneurial firms. She also is involved with Entrepreneurship@Cornell and the universitywide undergraduate business minor.

Her public engagement work includes the High Road Fellowship program in Buffalo, New York, a project in the ILR School supported by an Cornell Engaged Curriculum Grant to develop an undergraduate concentration in social sector studies. She also is a board member of the Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies, which convenes working groups of academics and practitioners to engage in mutual learning on selected topics.

“My research usually involves field work – interviewing, observing and interacting with practitioners,” Burton said. “We don’t typically think of this as public engagement, but it is another way in which Cornell faculty, students and research staff interact with the public and represent the university.”

Aching is a professor of Africana studies and Romance studies, with expertise in slavery and philosophy and the relations between them in Caribbean and Latin American literatures. Serving as a faculty member and former director of the Africana Studies and Research Center has provided him “with many opportunities for engagement with communities on campus and in Ithaca,” he said.

He is part of a team at Africana working on food justice in the Ithaca area and oral ethnography in the Bronx, work also supported by an Engaged Curriculum Grant. “We’re currently investigating how these opportunities to work with communities in both areas may provide capstone experiences for our undergraduates,” Aching said.

Several years ago, he took a group of students to work with teachers in Puerto Limón, Costa Rica; the relationships that developed between the undergraduates and elementary schoolchildren they tutored made it “one of my most memorable public engagement experiences,” he said.

Burton and Aching will each serve two-year terms, staggered over the next three years and overlapping in academic year 2017-18. Burton began her term Sept. 1, and Aching begins his in July 2017, following a sabbatical leave.

The appointments were made following a search among faculty nominees to replace Rebecca Stoltzfus, now vice provost of undergraduate education, as provost’s fellows.

“When Becky was provost’s fellow, she was very much in a role of invention,” Appleton said. “Now we’re entering a phase of delivering programs for faculty, students and staff, and there are specific needs and activities that we need to think about. We are particularly interested in developing and enhancing quality community-engaged opportunities for students and promoting effective strategies for sustaining them.”

This story first appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

Gerard Aching