Like many major metropolitan areas in the United States, the city of Louisville has an urban core that has experienced decades of economic and social disinvestment that began during the middle of the 20th century. The heart of Louisville’s urban core, west Louisville, is home to more than 60,000 residents, the majority of whom are African Americans. West Louisville residents experience educational, health, economic and social disparities as can be found in many other urban communities. Although west Louisville suffers from a high rate of poverty and is economically challenged, it is a community of nine historic neighborhoods whose residents take pride in their schools, churches, parks and other community assets.
In recognition of the serious challenges facing this part of our community, the University of Louisville in collaboration with west Louisville community residents and organizations launched the Signature Partnership Initiative in 2007. West Louisville was designated as the geographical focus of the Signature Partnership after numerous discussions with community leaders and residents over a two year period about the need for a more strategic effort to reduce or eliminate the educational, health, economic and social disparities that exist among the residents. Although the original impetus behind the creation of the Signature Partnership was to serve and benefit the community of west Louisville, it quickly became apparent to university administrators and faculty that the initiative provided a rich opportunity to facilitate engaged scholarship across academic disciplines. This initiative also provided a framework for the university to offer meaningful and community-identified experiential learning opportunities to students and significant teaching and research opportunities for faculty. The mutual benefit of the initiative to the community and the university becomes more evident with each passing year. The Signature Partnership is a model of how institutions of higher learning can engage with their local communities to address pressing issues and consequently play a role in community and urban revitalization.
In ten years the Signature Partnership has earned trust from community residents and gained national attention for UofL’s sustained commitment to west Louisville. Since data collection began in 2009, there have been over 21,000 instances of UofL student engagement, and over 4,200 faculty and staff instances of engagement in hundreds of research projects, community-based learning projects, and outreach activities in west Louisville, in collaboration with over 200 community partner organizations. UofL has garnered over $30 million in grants and contracts for service and research projects that directly benefit west Louisville residents. UofL also has assisted numerous governmental agencies and community organizations in efforts to secure grants that benefit west Louisville. The Signature Partnership schools are seeing increases in academic achievement, community residents now have increased access to healthcare and health education, west Louisville businesses are growing, entrepreneurship is being encouraged, and neighborhoods are laying the groundwork for future transformation.