Community Leadership and Partnerships

Community engagement and investment help shape Springfield’s future

​​​​​​​Intro to community leadership and partnerships scenario

Missouri State University is naturally and strongly linked to Springfield and southwest Missouri. Partnerships also extend far beyond the region into Missouri and beyond.

Focus area one

Downtown development/economic development

Missouri State has been a cornerstone of downtown revitalization and Springfield’s economic development. The university’s substantial investments in its downtown campus have spurred downtown’s growth into a community with places to live, work and play.

In 2004, Missouri State introduced the vision for IDEA Commons - an urban innovation park in downtown Springfield. It’s a collaborative community effort that brings together corporations, the university, residential lofts, nonprofits, and office and retail space. It’s a hub where people from all walks of life can live, shop, learn, create and work.

The university’s investment in downtown has served as a catalyst for vibrant growth. Jordan Valley Innovation Center (JVIC), Brick City and the Robert W. Plaster Free Enterprise Center make up much of the core of the area.


In 2020, the efactory at the Robert W. Plaster Free Enterprise Center helped more than 25 new businesses get started. They helped the companies create more than 280 new jobs and secure more than $17 million in capital and equity.

New businesses


New jobs


capital and equity

$17 million

JVIC is a university-private sector research, development and commercialization model that focuses on product development, research and educational opportunities. The facility focuses on collaboration with affiliates on new technologies and accelerating them to viable markets. This helps accelerate new product development and integration of technologies.


Future focus

University, public and private collaboration will continue to drive downtown development

Missouri State University will continue to be an integral part of downtown development. The university will leverage public and private funds to expand JVIC and the Plaster Center. JVIC expansion will allow for continued growth of the center’s research programs and affiliates. Plaster Center expansion will allow for an increase in start-up services offered in central Springfield. The growth of these two facilities will bring new businesses to the community and will allow many entrepreneurs to start their own new businesses.

These additions are part of a larger project that also includes a new office building, green space, gathering areas and a parking structure. Daylighting Jordan Creek will create a park-like area to tie all the projects together. 

Student Entrepreneurial Grants will also allow students to work with coaches at the efactory to launch new businesses.


Big ideas

  • Inclusive Excellence Scholarship includes funding to allow students to participate in internships or practical experiences during their sophomore, junior or senior year.
  • Student Entrepreneurial Grant competition provides funding, support and mentorship to help them start a business. ​​​​​​​

efactory and IDEA Commons create inviting environment for young professionals

Britany grew up in Maryland Heights, Missouri, and went to a diverse high school in the St. Louis area. Before she visited Missouri State University, she wasn’t sure she’d fit in at Missouri State because of the relatively small number of Black students compared to some other colleges she considered.

Missouri State awarded her an Inclusive Excellence Scholarship. The scholarship provided money for tuition and an internship experience. When she met current students and some of the Black faculty and staff during a campus visit, she decided to attend the university.

Britany studied hospitality leadership. During her junior year, she took the Restaurants Management class, where students learned all aspects of running a restaurant.

During her senior year, Britany applied for and won a pitch competition for a three-year Student Entrepreneurial Grant. The grant provides a financial award, mentoring and professional support to help awardees successfully launch a business after graduation.

During the first year of the grant, Britany was a management trainee with a Minorities in Business restaurant owner.

In the second year, she had the use of a food truck in the IDEA Commons plaza. IDEA Commons is an urban innovation park in downtown Springfield. During that year, her mentor helped her develop a menu and coached her on running a business.

She also worked with legal, financial and human resources coaches at the efactory. They helped her develop a business plan to take her restaurant concept from a food truck to a permanent location. The efactory, located in IDEA Commons, is a Missouri State program that serves entrepreneurs and business owners in southwest Missouri.

The third year, Britany received a monthly stipend to help cover expenses as her new restaurant got off the ground. Her mentor and coaches from the efactory also continued to coach her.

Britany had originally planned to go back to St. Louis after she graduated. But she began to see Springfield as a place where she’d be happy living.

She ultimately decided to stay in Springfield. She opened a small restaurant downtown and later became a mentor for other underrepresented students who want to start their own businesses.


Focus area two

Community engagement is a core value

Community engagement is a core component of the university’s public affairs mission. From service-learning classes to internships and practicums to research and service projects, campus members partner with organizations, agencies and governments to improve communities. 

Many of Missouri State’s academic programs are also linked to the community. Nursing students provide services at MSU Care - a primary care clinic for uninsured, low-income adults housed on the Missouri State campus. The sociology program focuses on community engagement. Students work with community organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Salvation Army, AIDS Project of the Ozarks and many others. These are just a few examples of how academic programs are integrated into the community.

Missouri State students are engaged with the community through service-learning classes and community engagement projects. 

Classes offering service-learning


Student participants


Service-learning hours



In 2019-20 Missouri State offered 863 courses that involved service-learning. These classes combine academic achievement and work with a community learning site. Almost 6,400 students enrolled in those classes and they contributed more than 160,000 hours to the community.


Future focus

Students will connect with community in meaningful ways

Community engagement is a core component of Missouri State’s public affairs mission. Many students become involved in the community through service-learning classes, volunteer opportunities, and internships and practicums. In the future, community engagement will be integrated throughout a student’s education. 

All GEP 101 classes will include a meaningful community engagement project. Students will learn about a community problem and how it’s been addressed. They will see how these community agencies operate and meet the people who are being served. All students will be required to take at least one additional service-learning classes in their major before they graduate. These courses will teach students how their chosen profession – be it art, accounting, biology or anything else – can benefit others. 

As students near the end of their studies, they will have the opportunity to have paid internships or practicum experiences with nonprofit organizations. The students will be paid through funds provided by the university or through grants and donations. 

Meaningful engagements throughout their time at Missouri State will allow students to develop connections with the community and develop a passion for service. Students will become more connected with the community and more will decide to make Springfield home.


Big ideas

  • Program pays students to work at nonprofit agencies.
  • Pre-med, post- baccalaureate program prepares students for medical school.

Service-learning inspires student to pursue medical degree

Alicia grew up in Willow Springs, Missouri. She attended Missouri State University-West Plains and was the first person in her family to attend college. 

During her second year at MSU-West Plains, Alicia learned about the transfer scholarship offered by MSU-Springfield. Between the scholarship and need-based aid she was able to enroll at the Springfield campus after she earned an Associate of Science in Health Professions. 

After graduating, she transferred to Missouri State-Springfield and entered the health services program. She intended to return to Willow Springs and work in one of the medical clinics there.

During her junior year, Alicia participated in a program where Missouri State paid her to work at Jordan Valley Health Center – a federally qualified health center. She worked with patients and their families to help them feel comfortable as they waited for tests. She loved the interactions with the patients. 

When she met with her Student Success Advisor that spring, she mentioned how much she enjoyed the patient interaction and said she was thinking about going to medical school, but she didn’t think she could afford it.

Her advisor told her about the National Health Service Corps Scholarship Program, which awards scholarships to students to attend medical school. In return, students agree to work in an area where there are shortages of health care services. One challenge Alicia faced was that the health services program didn’t include courses that were required to apply to medical school. Her advisor told her about Missouri State’s post-baccalaureate pre-med program. The program offers the courses a student needs to apply to medical school. During the program, advisors also work with students to prepare them to successfully apply to medical school.

Alicia graduated with her health services degree. She completed the pre-med program and was accepted into medical school. After she completes medical school, she plans to return to Willow Springs to work.


Focus area three

Community partnerships

Faculty members have also been catalysts for community growth. They helped created The Fairbanks, the African American Heritage Trail, Springfield’s first Community Focus Report and the Rural Schools Partnerships, and so much more. 

Missouri State faculty and staff are very involved in the community. They serve in local elected positions, partner with community organizations, and serve on the boards of businesses and nonprofit organizations. As community needs are identified, members of the university community step up to help address them. Missouri State University has been an active partner with the city, chamber and other organizations to increase diversity in the community. Initiatives that started at the university – like the Facing Racism Institute – have expanded to help make the community and businesses more welcoming for diverse residents.

Partnership was mutually beneficial


Partnership made a difference


Would form partnership again



90% of community partners agreed or strongly agreed that the partnership between their organization and Missouri State University was mutually beneficial

89% identified that the community-university partnership makes or has made a difference in the community.

91% of organizations participating in the survey identified that they would enter into partnerships with Missouri State University again.

Source: 2017 Assessment of Community Partners

“The primary responsibilities of the faculty at Missouri State University are Teaching, Research and Service.” Service includes “consultations and applications of disciplinary knowledge and expertise to address the needs of professional organizations and public constituencies,” including the larger Springfield community.

Source: Faculty Handbook


Future focus

Community engagement will be more fully integrated into academia

As part of the tenure system, faculty members are evaluated for their teaching, research and university service. Faculty members can already get teaching waivers when they’re involved in large research projects or university service responsibilities. In the future, the university will allow faculty members to apply for teaching waivers when they’re involved in large community service projects. 

Faculty members will be encouraged to become deeply and meaningfully involved in significant community projects. The teaching buyout will allow them to spend more time working on the projects. All projects will also involve students. This will have the dual purpose of providing community leadership to address important community problems and challenges, and it allow students to have meaningful experiences as well.

The university’s public affairs mission will also be more fully integrated into teaching and research. Faculty members will be encouraged to use research to develop potential solutions to community problems. 


Big ideas

  • Community Arts School provides free music lessons and art classes to low-income high school students.
  • Flexible workload arrangements allow faculty members to pursue non-traditional roles at university.

Arts school allows student to pursue passion

Mason grew up in Springfield. As a child he was always singing. He was a good student and was involved in sports and school activities. He was in music classes at school and really enjoyed them but didn’t see music as a big part of his life.

When Mason attended Reed Academy for middle school, he participated in a choral program that partners with Missouri State. During that program, his enjoyment of music grew into something stronger. 

In high school, Mason took all the music classes he could. He loved singing and was also learning to play an instrument. Mason came from a stable household, but his family didn’t have money for him to take private lessons. One of his music teachers told him about Missouri State’s Community Arts School. 

The Community Arts School is run by a faculty member in the Reynolds College of Arts and Letters whose workload includes 70% “traditional” faculty roles and 30% running the school. MSU arts students are paid to work in the school and provide free music lessons and arts classes to low-income students in the area. In their senior year, the students can get free, dual credit through the university.

Mason took vocal and instrumental lessons. In his senior year, he earned six hours of college credit. The experience he had with Missouri State students convinced him that it was a great college for him. 

Mason applied for and was awarded a music scholarship to attend the university. He’s now a junior at the university and is working at the Community Arts School.