Community Connectors: Susan Colbert

Susan Colbert stands by the Franklin County Extension office

Community Connectors: Susan Colbert

April 2021

Community Connectors is a monthly series highlighting Ohio State staff members who have shown leadership in partnering with our communities to make an impact. Photo: Susan Colbert outside of OSU Extension's satellite Community Development office in Weinland Park.

Susan H. Colbert, M.S
Community Engagement and Expansion Program Director
College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences
OSU Extension/Franklin County-Community Development

OSU Extension, in collaboration with community, corporate, civic, collegiate and church partners, helped transform a neighborhood east of The Ohio State University into a "neighborhood of choice." Weinland Park was formerly plagued by drugs, gangs, substandard housing, low-performing schools, high infant mortality rates and disproportionate amount of poverty. Now, it is a place, where people want to live, work, worship, play or attend school. Through this community engaged model, OSU Extension co-located staff in the neighborhood; offered community driven, Extension based programs, services and resources; and forged unique partnerships with individuals, families and community stakeholders and much more.

Why is engaging the community important to you and your work?

For more than 100 years, Cooperative Extension has been bringing university research and resources to communities to help address critical issues. Historically, Extension was one of the first university-community engagement models in the country! Toward this end, my team and I have tried to adhere to the principles and practices of our predecessors by not only disseminating knowledge, but also building collaborative relationships among people, who share common interests. Because it is important to listen and work closely with residents in the community, it affords us an opportunity to further enhance the value of our work and have greater impact on the community.

What lessons have you learned from the community that have helped you as a University staff member?

I have gained an appreciation for the role of community education and how it can help empower residents with the knowledge, resources and skills essential in helping people improve the quality of their lives. Moreover, I've come to realize that we shouldn't underestimate the power of people, places and partners in a community. From my experience in working in Weinland Park over the past 20 years, I've come to learn that despite the challenges the neighborhood faced over the years, the people, places and partners were a major asset and they always took great pride in their family, friendships and community. All of which, I fervently believe is why this neighborhood was able to survive and thrive. Conclusively, I strongly believe that the university can't make progress in a community without the support and cooperation of people and partners.

What has been your favorite moment from your community-engagement work?

Helping families achieve their dream of home ownership and pursuit of financial prosperity has been my proudest accomplishment. Under my leadership, OSU Extension offers HUD approved Home Buyer Education and Financial Literacy training/counseling to prospective home buyers in Franklin County. It is highly unprecedented for a university to have these credentials, but because we wanted to remain true to our mission and help families accumulate assets, build wealth and become financially stable, we made it happen. With the help of our state specialists, we were able to secure this designation. Homeownership is something that will have long lasting implications on the community, the residents, their children and generations to come!

What advice do you have for other staff members who are interested in getting involved in community engagement?

I would advise and encourage other staff to have empathy and passion; be a relationship builder and trustworthy; treat residents with dignity and respect; and be entrepneurial in spirit. It is important that those engaged in this type of work possess these qualities because these qualities will play an integral role in the development, implementation and sustainability of community engaged work.