Indiana University and Orange County collaborate to solve local challenges

Orange County leaders enlist the help of IU students and faculty across disciplines for a range of crucial community projects

Author

Carl Nelson

Contributors

Jacob Simpson, Marshall Curry

Metrics

Community
Orange County, IN
Community Size
20,000
University
Indiana University
Program
Sustaining Hoosier Communities
Years
2018-2019
Status
Completed
Case Type
Community Partnership
Region
EPA Region 5, USA

Orange County is a 20,000 person rural southern Indiana county comprising four incorporated towns and a number of unincorporated communities. Residents are intent on celebrating the county’s industrial roots, natural beauty, and historic architecture while embracing and preparing for the future. Local progress is driven in large part by “grassroots cooperative leadership” (Report, Pg. 4), while legal and medical non-profits provide essential communal services. This community-oriented mentality lends itself to innovative partnerships between various actors working towards common goals.

A developing rural community seeks to sustain momentum

In late 2018, Orange County was in a hopeful state of change and growth. Local businesses, organizations, and nonprofits faced a diverse range of challenges related to economic, social, and cultural development. At the same time, stakeholders sought ways to generate revenue and attract visitors “through a tourism economy, relying on [the county’s] historical, agricultural and recreational roots” (IU Summary). Across the county were multiple planned or ongoing initiatives in fields like health and wellness, parks and recreation, community arts and leadership, and infrastructure. In order to move forward, these projects required the help of innovative problem solvers with fresh perspectives.   

University program opens avenues for collaborative innovation 

Enter, the Sustaining Hoosier Communities (SHC) program at Indiana University. SHC is a community outreach initiative within the Center for Rural Engagement and a member of the Educational Partnerships for Innovation in Communities (EPIC) network. The program partners faculty and students with local leaders and organizations in order to explore, understand and resolve community-identified challenges and opportunities. In the 2018-2019 academic year, students across departments were asked to develop innovative solutions to Orange County’s complex problems. This EPIC-N partnership involved over 450 participants in 26 courses across 11 departments. 

Students and faculty deliver remarkable results for the region

Throughout the duration of the 18 month engagement, participating courses and their respective faculty and students:

Chronic Illness and Maternal Health 

Health and Wellness Services

Renewable Energy

Local Food

Recycling

Leadership

Business Support

Capacity Building

Tourism

Public Infrastructure

Arts

Recreation

  • Created educational programming for a local community garden
  • Used geographical data analysis in order to identify potential sites for a fairgrounds relocation 

Housing

  • Developed affordable, sustainable plans and budgets for workforce housing and aging-in-place housing
  • Conducted regional surveys and interviews to increase Habitat for Humanity’s volunteer and applicant rates

This partnership would not have been possible without the leadership of Sustaining Hoosier Communities director Jane Rogan at the Center for Rural Engagement. Organizational partners on the community side included the Orange County Economic Development Partnership, HandUp OC, the Lost River Market and Deli, Southern Indiana Community Health Care, Orange County Habitat for Humanity, the Black Vulture Project, and the Orange County Recycling Co-Op. 

Building trust, inspiring young people

Students participating in this partnership were challenged to work with their fellow community members to solve pressing problems. Faculty designed dynamic coursework around these real-world scenarios, while aspiring designers, medical workers, writers, researchers, engineers, and marketers gained valuable experience in their chosen fields. The year-long partnership fostered new connections between students, faculty, and community members, and strengthened the relationship between Orange County and Indiana University.    

Sustaining Hoosier Communities Contact Info
Jane Rogan
Sustaining Hoosier Communities Director
jrogan@indiana.edu
(812) 855-0568
https://shc.indiana.edu

“This was way beyond any expectation that I had. All of them. This was amazing.”

“I really enjoyed the sense of community that there was. I could see how everyone knew each other and there was definitely a sense that everyone cared for each other's well being”