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Quality of life and community engagement drive the Great Plains Center toward excellence.

In 2010 the Great Plains Center for Community Research and Service began with one goal in mind: to strengthen the quality of life in rural North Dakota by engaging faculty and students into community identified issues. It was funded with a two-year $950,000 grant through the U.S. Department of Education, sponsored by North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan.

"We set out to visit leaders in small communities in northwest North Dakota, conducting ‘pie and coffee meetings’ to find out what the issues were and how we could help," said Neil Scharpe, GPCCRS director. At the same time we turned to our faculty and said we’d like to fund some projects that engaged faculty and students in community issues that had lasting impact."

And the floodgates opened, figuratively and literally speaking.

When the 2011 Souris River flood waters receded, GPCCRS focused on supporting a community in crisis. In the disaster’s aftermath, GPCCS collaborated with the Minot Area Community Foundation in collecting data on flood impacted home owners. This information was used in distributing monies from the Flood Recovery Fund. GPCCRS conducted a survey on behalf of the Minot Public School system and compiled feedback to help MPS in its decisions about rebuilding damaged schools and also completed a survey of landlords identifying their post flood needs. GPCCRS supported a project to identify molds in flooded residences through the MSU chemistry department, which culminated in a public forum looking at the environmental health of the area one year after the flood.

GPCCRS conducted the first ND wage and benefits survey for nonprofit organizations. It funded "Flora of North Dakota," an MSU biology project whose intent is to provide a comprehensive review of plants across the state, and publish the information online for future researchers.

GPCCRS sponsored an MSU history department program to digitally preserve documents and photos, creating an archive of local history. The public can now view MSU student history projects on line. On July 1, it launched a website for North Dakota economic developers to be used as a clearing house for information. The Center is also leading a project to create solution models designed to address education, community culture, leadership, public health and emergency preparedness in oil impacted communities. Information sharing will occur in focus groups throughout five communities in the area with a Solutions Conference held in August at MSU for all affected communities to attend.

"I believe the greatest impact that the center has had to date is in increased student engagement. Students involved in all of our projects have used the educational setting at MSU to enhance communities," Scharpe said. "But there are still huge areas of needs -- things like daycare and housing. We will continue to listen and address those issues that communities identify."