Rutgers-Camden Innovation Community Hub: From Local to Global
Creating sustainable socio-economic growth in vulnerable communities
The goal of the Rutgers University–Camden Innovation Community Hub (RICH) is to develop, cultivate, and disseminate innovative entrepreneurial solutions that address sustainable socioeconomic growth in underserved, vulnerable communities. The hub is presented as a model that is structurally local, then grows and expands nationally through Rutgers–Camden’s multisector partnerships to
- engage diverse community stakeholders and external partners in joint agendas that foster social and human capital investment while building academic, community, and political leadership development, and training to advance social justice, community resiliency, and economic development
- invest in interdisciplinary collaborative and participatory research that leads to the generation of new knowledge, evidence-based solutions, and pathways for implementing sustainable health and public policies that navigate the local political and economic climate of Camden
- improve public discourse to prioritize community strengths while developing a cross-sectoral dialogue demonstrating healing, hope, and health toward sustainable development
- embed teaching and learning approaches to create cross-cutting skills and critical competencies that are relevant in solving complex local and global challenges
Every day, inner city neighborhoods in the United States, like those in Camden, New Jersey, struggle to reverse years of decline in the quality of daily life and to bridge opportunity gaps, such as access to good jobs, education, health care, and safe housing. The vision and mission of the Rutgers–Camden Innovation Community Hub (RICH) is to transform the Camden community into a center of social and economic enterprise that lifts and aligns private, public, government, and nonprofit agencies to bridge opportunities.
The goal of the RICH initiative is to help these agencies create lasting and sustainable change for Camden’s residents, with the hub serving as an enterprise of community social and economic development. The hub will align the residents of Camden with a pipeline of educational, employment, and entrepreneurial programs in a location on Cooper Street. The hub will initiate innovative activity, where creative and talented community leaders and university entrepreneurs will come together to learn, share, grow, establish connections, and create an entrepreneurial ecosystem.
The RICH initiative will leverage Rutgers–Camden as an anchor institution and champion of civic and social responsibility, providing a place for all residents to
- learn the in-demand skills necessary for jobs in local industries
- develop small businesses to become social entrepreneurs
- collaborate with Rutgers faculty, staff, students, and community agency partners to identify and develop innovative solutions to the city’s social and economic challenges and develop new ideas to advance greater equity and access
Championing this Big Idea is Donna Nickitas, dean of the Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden, a noted health policy scholar and an energetic visionary regarding the future of health care and nursing education in America. Nickitas is deeply committed to ensuring that everyone—no matter where they live—has the opportunity to live a healthy life. Her long history of advocating for equitable health care and her proven ability to foster a culture of cross-sector engagement ideally positions her to co-lead RICH with Gloria Bonilla-Santiago, a Board of Governors distinguished service professor of public policy and administration and a passionate community leader in Camden. Known as the “patron saint of Cooper Street,” Bonilla-Santiago has worked for decades to transform Camden’s Cooper Street educational corridor and create one of the nation’s best community charter school systems, serving children (and their families) from cradle to college in a holistic and innovative environment that provides a jumping-off point for the new community hub.
Together, these two leaders will spearhead the innovation hub as a social and economic enterprise where Camden residents, Rutgers students and faculty, and local private, public, government, and nonprofit agencies work together and learn from each other. A vital component of the community hub will be researching and disseminating the lessons learned that can inform policymaking and kick-start lasting change in Camden and beyond. The Rutgers community hub in Camden will serve as a model for cities in the United States and around the world that face similar challenges.
Big Ideas are driven by faculty, staff, and researchers across disciplines, divisions, and locations. Project champions represent the robust, expansive, and highly collaborative project teams whose work will bring these ideas to life.
Donna M. Nickitas
Dean, School of Nursing, Rutgers–Camden
Nickitas is a noted health policy scholar, an energetic visionary for health care and nursing education in America, and an accomplished administrator. A retired major in the U.S. Air Force Nurse Reserve Corps, Nickitas’s long history of advocacy for equitable health care allows her to lead the dynamic growth of the nursing school, building on its tradition of preparing nurses to serve society and do public good by advancing health, driving public policy, and promoting access to quality, patient-centered care. She is widely published and has authored, co-authored, or co-edited peer-reviewed books related to the nursing profession, including Public Policy and Politics for Nurses and Other Health Professionals. Since 2008, she has served as the editor of Nursing Economic$, a journal dedicated to advancing nursing leadership and innovation. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Nursing, the National Academies of Practice, and the New York Academy of Medicine. She is a board member of the New Jersey Department of Health, Preventative Committee on Health, and the treasurer of the Eastern Nursing Research Society.
Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor of Public Policy, and Director, Community Leadership Center
Bonilla-Santiago is also the overseer and board chair of the LEAP Academy University Charter School. Throughout her academic career, she has established a track record in coordinating large-scale programs and private and public ventures that bring together external and internal stakeholders from a range of organizations. As a leading scholar, researcher, speaker, and international cross-cultural training consultant, she brings more than 25 years of experience in program development and innovation, social entrepreneurship, research, fundraising, strategic planning, school development, and leadership training. In 2016–2017, she was the recipient of the Fulbright Specialist Award for research and professional training in Paraguay. In 2017, she received the Cabrini Ivy Young Willis and Martha Willis Dale Award, which recognizes women who have made outstanding contributions in the fields of public affairs and community development. She received the 2018 Power of Woman Award, presented by the Lupe Fund. In May 2018, she was the keynote speaker at the Cabrini University commencement for master’s degree students and received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree.