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UA faculty visit Demopolis for community engagement tour

Faculty members of the University of Alabama made their way to the Marengo County History and Archives Museum in Demopolis Friday as part of a tour of the black belt region.

While at MCHAM, the UA professors were greeted by a panel representing Marengo County including Candace Dorriety, executive director of the Demopolis Area Chamber of Commerce; Arthur Evans, administrator at Bryant W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital; Luther Hallmark, Marengo County Schools superintendent; and Kyle Kallhoff, Demopolis City Schools superintendent.

During the stop in Demopolis, Dr. Samory T. Pruitt, Vice President for Community Affairs at UA, talked about how he and the staff were impressed with the ways the city and county are using available resources to make a difference.

“One of the moderators mentioned that clearly Demopolis is one of the more progressive cities in the black belt,” Pruitt said. “(The faculty) is going to take away from this meeting some of the things they heard about the education system here, the educational excellence and some of the efforts for job creation and economic development. I think the work in saving the hospital, and just the spirit in the other cities, is just the spirit of working together with what you have and to make the best of it. I think that’s what all of us are taking from this.”

The three-day community engagement tour featured stops at Greene County High School, Greensboro and Holt High School on the first day; Carrollton, Sumter County, and Marion on Day two; and concluded with Thomasville/Wilcox County, Demopolis and Selma on the final day.

“At the University of Alabama, teaching and research is what we do, but a big part of it now is what we call community engaged scholarship,” said Pruitt. “In some of the counties and cities we listed on this tour, we have partnerships like that with some of the faculty members. We brought new faculty members from this fall who were interested in seeing some of those partnerships in action and engaging some of those communities in ways that create opportunities for new partnerships.”

According to Pruitt, the purpose of the trip was to visit some of the places in the partnership especially for those faculty members who are knew to the state of Alabama.

During each stop, panels were setup to discuss innovations and ideas being practiced by the participating groups.

“I think clearly, how much and how many good things are happening in these communities and how we can complement these things. I think sometimes that’s a really big step,” said Pruitt. “We’re not talking coming and helping as much as we’re talking about coming in and complementing things that are already taking place.”

This is the first tour of its kind for UA, but the approach has been gaining momentum on campus for the last 12 years, according to Pruitt.

“Now we have a critical mass of faculty members, students and administrators who see this as a real way of connecting our teaching, research and service missions.”

Thomas Moore Sr. served as the site coordinator for the Demopolis stop at MCHAM.

(This article originally appeared in the Wednesday, May 17, print edition of the Demopolis Times.)