New center focuses on critical issues in student engagement

Center sees ways to spur innovation within USC and through community partnerships

By Ross Brenneman

USC Rossier is launching a new center to improve student engagement through research and better implementation practices.

The USC Center for Engagement-Driven Global Education, or USC EDGE, will work to improve interdisciplinary collaboration to create innovation in educational engagement. It will be led by Alan Arkatov, the Katzman/Ernst Chair for Educational Entrepreneurship, Technology and Innovation at USC Rossier.

“This new center recognizes that we must break down traditional boundaries between school, home and community in order to engage students in today’s rapidly changing world,” said Dean Karen Symms Gallagher in announcing the center.

Arkatov sees a key equity component to the work. “All around the world, there is disengagement related to teaching and learning,” Arkatov said. “This has been an intractable problem, particularly for those in underserved communities, but it’s solvable with innovative thinking, research and practice.”

Student engagement can include a bevy of issues both in and out of schools, such as the development of school culture, social-emotional health and gifted education, and also perennial flashpoint topics like discipline, bullying and chronic absenteeism. Research suggests that lack of engagement leads to higher absenteeism, lower grades and less aspiration to pursue higher education. Other studies show that such effects related to student engagement disproportionately hurt students of color.

The focus of the center will be on researching, developing and implementing programs that are both sustainable and scalable, while showing proof that they improve engagement and outcomes.

Center EDGE has brought on several USC professors as faculty affiliates to help in its mission. Activities will be funded through government grants, philanthropy, foundation and corporate giving, and partnerships. Arkatov says that partners “have a proven ability to understand, change and dramatically impact education ecosystems.”

The center plans to spur innovation not only from within USC, but also through collaboration with community and national organizations. Arkatov, who has been the leader of partnerships between USC Rossier and groups like Journeys in Film and Project Tomorrow, sees ways to scale up the reach of those partnerships while also forming new ones.

“We’re literally at the right school of education, at the right university, at the right time and the right place to leverage the extraordinary human capital we have here at Rossier, at USC and throughout the ‘imagination economy’ that is Los Angeles,” Arkatov said.