From his first day as chancellor at Washington University in St. Louis, Andrew D. Martin made it quite clear how he viewed the “in St. Louis” part of our official name.
“I want to eradicate any kind of perception that St. Louis is merely WashU’s side gig,” he said in his Oct. 3, 2019, inaugural address from Brookings Quadrangle, emphasizing that “In St. Louis, For St. Louis” would be a central initiative of the university from that day forward.
Little did anyone know that it would be a mere matter of months that our being a good citizen of the community was needed more than ever, when COVID-19 became the biggest public health crisis of our time. Washington University resources and research, from the School of Medicine and the Danforth Campus, were called upon not only to cope with the virus, but to help defeat it.
Almost immediately, the university rose to the Herculean challenge and began to innovate, working to better understand the virus, investigate the best ways to detect and fight it, and treat scores of COVID-19 patients from across the St. Louis area. And the university’s efforts to eradicate the virus continue: For example, just last month Matthew Kreuter, the Kahn Family Professor of Public Health at the Brown School, received $1.9 million in federal grants to help increase COVID-19 vaccinations among the Black community in St. Louis City and County.
Key to the grants were community partners, among them the St. Louis City Department of Health, St. Louis County Department of Health, St. Louis COVID-19 Regional Response Team, United Way and Home State Health/Centene, 211, along with the Brown School, the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, and the School of Medicine.
That sounds like a lot of partners, but that’s the key word in WashU’s approach: partnership. The university is looking to become a better partner in a post-pandemic region in myriad ways — crucial not only for WashU’s future but for the entire region.
“We are now in a world where universities have become economic forces in urban areas,” says Henry S. Webber, executive vice chancellor for civic affairs and strategic planning, who spent 13 years as executive vice chancellor and chief administrative officer before transitioning to his new role this year. He brings with him years of experience and expertise in economic development and community engagement to energize WashU’s role as a regional partner.
“This isn’t just about WashU,” Webber says. “This is about improving American life in American cities. This is an evolving movement. We are a leader in an evolving and important national trend.”
And despite real challenges of a post-pandemic world — huge racial disparities in the region and a regional rate of population growth that is only 40 percent the national level — Webber recognizes that now is the time for Washington University to step up its partnerships and help strengthen the St. Louis region.
To do that, WashU can build on what has been positive for the region, with an eye for always doing more. Here are three examples of collaborations, connections and partnerships in which the university has already shown leadership in the St. Louis region.
Educating the educators
In the late 1980s, Sarah C.R. Elgin, the Viktor Hamburger Distinguished Professor Emerita in Arts & Sciences, founded the Office of Science Outreach, which began as an informal science education partnership with the nearby University City School District. More than three decades later, the Institute for School Partnership (ISP) has grown into a regional hub focused on making STEM education more inclusive and more engaging.
“Our programs are created by and for educators,” says Victoria May, executive director and assistant dean in Arts & Sciences, an educator herself before she joined ISP in 1991. “We ask teachers what they need because we’re continuous learners, too. Our goal is to build partnerships of equals.”
ISP’s educational collaborations run deep, encompassing the majority of school districts, charter schools and independent schools in the region. The partnership goes further with companies and foundations who share the goal of equitable access to a STEM education for every learner.
Among the schools with whom ISP partners is Saint Louis Public Schools, University City and Cardinal Ritter College Prep High School, where the goal is to grow collective leadership by challenging traditional educational models of top-down management and promoting a human-centered organizational approach. Its signature program, the STEM curriculum mySci, is used by public, charter and private schools and serves some 130,000 students. In the school districts of Ritenour, Mehlville and Maplewood-Richmond Heights, ISP is helping educators re-envision math instruction, resulting in better student engagement and achievement.
Other programs of ISP include the St. Louis Teacher Residency program, which helps develop and retain urban educators with a focus on reducing teacher turnover and boosting teacher quality. ISP content specialists teach courses in this targeted Master of Arts in Teaching and Learning program, while teacher-residents work at such schools as Saint Louis Public Schools and KIPP St. Louis, as well as Premier Charter School, City Garden Montessori and Northside Community School.
Washington University’s Office of Government and Community Relations oversees the sponsorship of KIPP St. Louis and Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls, which graduated its first cohort this spring. ISP’s instructional specialists work closely with these charter public schools, providing teacher support, training and resources. ISP also has partnered with local PBS affiliate The Nine Network (KETC/Channel 9) to create and produce on-air math and science classroom lessons through the “Teaching in Room 9” series.
And when COVID-19 upended teaching and learning, ISP used longstanding organizational and district partnerships to support teachers and students, creating resources that enabled educators to pivot to virtual teaching.
“We did a lot of listening in the summer of 2020,” says Rachel Ruggirello, ISP associate director, “asking teachers to tell us what they needed.” By the fall of 2020, ISP had STEM Challenges and partnered with The Little Bit Foundation to distribute STEM materials to the neediest schools through food distribution sites.
No matter how educational instruction evolves after the pandemic and into the future, ISP will continue to build partnerships that create lasting solutions in the region. Early next month, Nikki Doughty joins the ISP team as its first associate director of strategic initiatives. “You need the strengths and talents of everyone to transform the classroom,” Doughty says. “I’m happy to join a team that thinks not only about educating the whole child, but the educator who is supporting the whole child.”
By job and by story
One hallmark of a WashU education is that every student will be known “by name and by story.” As this story illustrates, the region’s third largest employer makes knowing the story a priority for its employees, too.
In 2018, Jessica Cox was a single mother of two working as a home health aide looking to get more training for a…