Tampa Bay Region, Florida, University of Florida

University of Florida Tampa Bay Region Cooperative Extension Services

How University of Florida Regional Urban Sustainability is positioned at the national, state, regional, and city levels:

Demographic Categories Florida Statewide
Black/African: 16.13%
Asian: 2.68%
White: 75.67%
Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander: 0.06%
Native Alaskan/Native American: 0.28%
Two or more races: 2.54%
Other race: 2.64%
Median age: 42
Total Population: 21,646,155

This case study details a community engagement approach that is easily replicable in urban and rural areas and can be scaled and adapted to meet educational goals.

The Regional Specialized Agent (RSA), Urban Environmental Sustainability utilizes atypical educational approaches to connect the resources of the land grant university system with clientele in resource-rich urban areas. The RSA developed a unique educational program utilizing the platform of film as the content delivery mechanism. Film uses storytelling to educate audiences, creates excitement in the delivery methodology, and provides opportunities to support long-term community involvement.

The agent has utilized the “regional” label to work across county borders, which leverages the interdisciplinary expertise of both the agent and the university and increases visibility of Extension and the land grant system as a resource. By positioning Extension in partnerships with other urban universities, this addresses the distance disconnect between the land grant university headquartered in Gainesville and potential clientele in the Tampa Bay region (population 3 million plus); capitalizes on urban university partners’ name recognition, contributes to mutual educational goals, and showcases best practices in Extension methodology. The partnerships with other universities and colleges allows Extension to gain the broadest geographic visibility across the region, which maximizes its potential for connections with the urban demographic.

(See poster under the resource tab: Using Film to Create Sustainable Community Connections)

How University of Florida Regional Urban Sustainability addresses the multitude of issues and priorities in their community through educational programming:

Since 2014, the RSA has offered four (4) regional film series in partnership with multiple universities and colleges within the Tampa Bay region, reaching a total of 540 attendees. These university and college partners are listed below and the film screenings were held monthly over the course of the Fall semester.

  • University of South Florida, Tampa (Patel College of Global Sustainability)
  • The University of Tampa
  • Petersburg College (Tarpon Springs)
  • University of South Florida, St. Petersburg

Each film series is unique in its educational message and the films are chosen by the RSA to meet mutual educational goals of the agent and partner institution. Film selection allows the RSA to not only highlight an important sustainability issue (climate change, food waste, land use) but to also showcase the expertise that Extension brings to bear on the subject matter. This leads to additional connections for urban residents who can now turn to Extension as another trusted resource. Each series includes regional and local experts and community partners identified by the RSA who can provide additional local expertise and community connections beyond the film series.

The film approach allows urban residents to connect with Extension in the non-traditional classroom setting whereby Extension may be perceived as a consultant who coordinates the expertise of many other “actors”. The flexibility of utilizing film as the educational platform allows the RSA to customize the topics to suit the landscape (urban/rural) and the choice of local/regional experts to adequately address spillover concerns about the topic. This approach connects audiences with research and expertise without identifying singular experts; instead, it pluralizes the connections that exist between universities and communities and demonstrates the role that multiple partners can play to solve complex urban sustainability issues. This educational pathway deviates from the Extension norm but it allows clientele to connect with Extension without feeling overloaded with content, a strategy that is valuable in resource-rich communities to build trust and promote neutrality grounded in science and research.

How University of Florida Regional Urban Sustainability attracts, develops, retains, and structures competent talent:

The RSA position is a unique position created in 2005/2006 to address sustainability issues using a multi-disciplinary systems-level approach. The position is funded through an endowment which was created through the foresight of a local benefactor in collaboration with the University of Florida. This unique formula of a systems-focused position, collaborative funding, and regional label provides a degree of latitude to address emerging issues. At the time, prevailing land development patterns, increasing population densities, and complexity of issues prompted the creation of the position and it is still relevant today in the Tampa Bay region, which is currently ranked 18th in U.S.  Metropolitan Statistical Area rankings.

The position description reflects the focus on interdisciplinary approaches necessary to address sustainability – given its interconnections with other community issues – and provides the flexibility necessary to rapidly respond to emerging issues. The regional label allows the agent to work across county borders, to partner with other agents and entities, to pool expertise, and to utilize a team approach to educate and engage with pertinent urban challenges. Attracting and retaining the skillset for urban Extension professionals requires position descriptions that reflect the complexity of urban issues rather than relying on singular subject matter expertise.  To this end, the reporting system from the university should also be flexible to capture and validate the myriad connections enabling a consultative approach rather than a prescriptive approach. The mindset of community expertise is valuable in urban areas where multiple players and perspectives must be considered in identifying solutions to urban problems, and this approach can be counter-intuitive in the Extension system where singular expertise is the norm.

How University of Florida Regional Urban Sustainability collaborates to leverage resources for collective impact:

Partnerships are vital in large urban metro areas where Extension might not have the name recognition and the resources to fully engage. To this end, the film series has been vital in attracting new clientele who might not have otherwise connected with Extension. The marketing channels used by both the RSA and the urban university partner contribute to increased visibility of Extension and its programs across the region. These channels include social media platforms; arts, film and humanities departments; Arts Tampa Bay; film distributor (Bullfrog films); and television and radio. The value of the film program is demonstrated in the continued use of film to educate and engage both on and off campus. The value of connecting with other urban entities contributes to amplifying Extension’s mission, which can strengthen existing relationships with county and city governments. Additionally, though the film series were held on university campuses, multiple single film events (film screenings) were held at libraries, community centers, and non-traditional venues such as an organic eatery.