Penn State, Rethinking Urban Poverty project receive engagement award

November 10, 2008

University Park, Pa. — Penn State and the Rethinking Urban Poverty: the Philadelphia Field Project, headed by Professor Lakshman Yapa, were recognized as the 2008 recipients of the C. Peter Magrath University Community Engagement Award presented by NASULGC, a Public University Association, at its annual meeting.

The project, an outreach program of Penn State, is a unique service-learning course that has generated more than 60 student-run projects addressing critical needs in areas as diverse as credit cooperatives, transportation and nutrition.
Since 1998, Penn State students involved in the Rethinking Urban Poverty project lived and worked in a low-income neighborhood of Philadelphia. By engaging in dialogue and creating partnerships with local community organizations, students identified the links between poverty and community development, and, through their research, became a resource for the community. Students moved away from the standard poverty discourse and focused instead on quality of life by employing the three community-identified needs health, dignity and community. Through the project, they undertook research activities to improve health through diet, nutrition, exercise, urban gardens, community-supported agriculture and education for preventive health care, targeting specific challenges such as Type II diabetes, atherosclerosis and hypertension.

Robert Bruininks, chair of the NASULGC Board of Directors and president of the University of Minnesota, said the Philadelphia Field Project could serve as an outreach model for other universities.

"Penn State Professor Lakshman Yapa's program in the City of Philadelphia should serve as a model of engagement and outreach for public institutions," said Bruininks. "Public universities, like Penn State and the other four regional winners, exemplify the spirit and vision of university engagement championed by Peter Magrath, and we salute their fine work."

Yapa said the project represents a new way universities can work with the communities and students they serve.

"According to my understanding, the C. Peter Magrath University Community Engagement Award was given to the Rethinking Urban Poverty: Philadelphia Field Project this year to recognize the proposition that effective community engagement requires a 'rethinking of the university' and a simultaneous transformation of the university itself as a place of teaching and research," Yapa said.

Engaging communities and improving the lives of the citizens of the Commonwealth are key components of Penn State’s mission.
“I congratulate Professor Yapa, the students and community partners who made the Philadelphia Field Project such a great example of the transformative power a university can have within a community,” said Penn State President Graham B. Spanier. “This project represents the University’s legacy of engagement.”

"This is a wonderful recognition for the great work of Dr. Yapa and his students," added Craig Weidemann, vice president of Outreach. "His Philadelphia Field Project is a great example of the impact of engaged scholarship and the power of universities in working with communities to address critical societal issues and learning from each other in the process."

Visit for more information on the Philadelphia Field Project.

Yapa and the project were named the northeast regional winner of the Magrath Award this spring. The other regional winners are:

— An Extraordinary Partnership between Arizona State University and the City of Phoenix, Arizona State University.

— A Comprehensive and Collaborative Approach to Urban Revitalization, The Ohio State University.

— Think, Work, Serve: Outreach & Engagement, Tennessee State University.

— CenteringPregnancy SmilesTM, University of Kentucky College of Dentistry.

Established in 2006, the Magrath Award recognizes the outreach and engagement partnerships of four-year public universities. The award program seeks to identify colleges and universities that have redesigned their learning, discovery, and engagement functions to become "even more sympathetically and productively" involved with their communities. The award is named for C. Peter Magrath, who served as president of NASULGC from 1992 to 2005.

  • Lakshman Yapa

    IMAGE: Penn State
Last Updated April 29, 2013