October 06, 2011

Community Organizer Ken Reardon Presents on Interdisciplinary Research for Community Transformation

After finishing their cleanup of North 9th Street in the Emerson Park section of East St. Louis, Illinois on a summer day in the early 1990s, Ken Reardon and more than 100 student and community member volunteers realized the city provided no means to dispose of their trash. In protest, they lined up the over 900 bags of rubbish they had collected along the sides of the road.

The local news station caught wind of what was going on, and sent a helicopter and camera crew to get aerial shots of all the bags. Not only did the public’s response get the trash bags cleaned up, but the Emerson Park Development Corporation (EPDC)–the organization Reardon and his students were working with–also got enough funding to proceed with the cleanup of the area around North 9th Street.

An award-winning community activist, Reardon came to Wentworth to lecture students, faculty, and staff on the need for colleges and universities to increase community activism, using his story as an example of the importance of a partnership between a college and its community.

Now director of the graduate program in City and Regional Planning at the University of Memphis, Reardon has made community-based learning part of his teaching process since the start of his career in higher education. Before his main lecture, he met with a smaller group of students, faculty, and staff members to talk about community-based learning—and how to get funding from donors.

“You’ve got to appeal to a lot of people and [people who want to donate to specific things], but once you get them back in the church [of donating], you can talk to them about other things,” he said. “It’s good for the Institute to be seen as a public spirit.”

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