Community Connectors is a monthly series highlighting Ohio State staff members who have shown leadership in partnering with our communities to make an impact.
Scott D. Hardy, Ph.D.
Ohio Sea Grant and Stone Laboratory, School of Environment and Natural Resources
As an Extension educator with Ohio Sea Grant and Stone Laboratory, my goal is to help develop sustainable solutions for communities facing emerging water quality and quantity dilemmas in the Lake Erie watershed. I have accomplished this by contributing to community initiatives such as the Cuyahoga River Area of Concern Advisory Committee, Cleveland Water Alliance Program Committee, Cleveland Plastic Reduction Working Group and Cleveland Climate Action Planning Committee. These partnerships have established the foundation for applied research and outreach resulting in the publication of scientific journal articles, needs assessments for local municipalities, OSU Extension fact sheets, OSU CD online blog posts, and an online Decision Support Tool and interactive website for coastal marina owners. Being a practitioner-scholar has helped me to connect with stakeholders in the region that are vital to informing the type of engaged and participatory scholarship that is most impactful.
Why is engaging the community important to you and your work?
I strongly believe that engaging the community leads to more equitable, efficient, and ultimately, sustainable outcomes. In a sense, my entire career has been based on this philosophy. My first experience with community engagement came while serving as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer in Honduras. During my two-year service I learned the importance of partnering with local leaders and civic groups on community development initiatives. Since joining Ohio Sea Grant I have adopted a similar approach in my extension programming, only I was born in the community which I now serve. I grew up in northeast Ohio just outside of Cleveland and thus have firsthand knowledge of both the attributes and needs of the region. My education and training (I am a proud OSU alumnus!) have prepared me to help residents and decision makers navigate changing environmental and economic conditions and work toward building a more sustainable future. I love northeast Ohio and am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to community-based restoration and revitalization efforts.
What lessons have you learned from the community that have helped you as a university staff member?
First and foremost, I have learned that there are many passionate and well-informed people in the region working together for a sustainable future. Additionally, people who regularly spend time on Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga River have invaluable local knowledge that can be vital to practitioners and policymakers. For example, my role with the Cleveland Plastic Reduction Working Group led me to engage in participatory research on how to reduce plastic pollution on area beaches and throughout the city. Results of the project were based on over 1,000 responses to an online survey and a focus group comprised of 10 people who work on plastic-reduction issues in the region. The survey responses and focus group discussions were invaluable for informing strategies to address the issue and making decisions on how and where to allocate resources for collaboration. If it were not for the input of community members, current plastic-reduction strategies would not be nearly as comprehensive.
What has been your favorite moment from your community-engagement work?
Great question! As chair of outreach and education for the Cuyahoga River Area of Concern Advisory Committee it is my responsibility to educate the public about all the great work going on to restore beneficial uses of the river (e.g., recreation on the water and nearshore beaches, maintaining healthy aquatic habitat for fish and other species, etc.). Recently the advisory committee received word from the Ohio EPA that current Ohio Sport Fish Health and Consumption Advisory restrictions show that the fish within the Cuyahoga River AOC meet removal criteria, meaning that the frequency of consumption of Cuyahoga AOC fish should be no more stringent than advisories for Lake Erie fish. This represents an incredible improvement in water quality over the last 50 years and is great news for folks who enjoy fishing in the river. To celebrate, myself and members of the advisory committee organized a big party for local partners and area residents. The Cleveland media came, and the event was broadcast on the 5 p.m. news. There were prizes and giveaways from affiliated sponsors and members of the community showed up to mingle and learn about ongoing and future river restoration projects. It was a great night!
What advice do you have for other staff members who are interested in getting involved in community engagement?
Thanks to the internet, it is easier than ever to engage with your local community. I would start by emailing local government officials and nonprofit organizations. Ask if there are public events or meetings you could attend - many are casual and open to the public. If there is a county fair, or community celebration at your local park or city hall, stop by. Volunteer! There are tons of opportunities to volunteer. See if there is a trash clean up or tree planting in your area. Check with your local visitor's bureau about upcoming events. Get out in your community and meet people - ask how you can be helpful. There is no shortage of ways to get involved.