Marquette University puts emphasis on community engagement

Aligned with the Jesuit tradition of serving God by serving others, Marquette’s new senior director of community engagement deepens the university’s connections within Milwaukee and beyond.

One year ago, Kelsey Otero found herself taking on a new role at Marquette as the senior director of community engagement; since then, it’s been full steam ahead.

She currently serves as the university’s chief community engagement officer, leading and cultivating collaborative, bi-directional relationships with local, state, regional, national and global communities to advance the mission and vision of Marquette — a position that complements her professional strengths.

“For community organizations, it can be hard to know where to start when working with a university; likewise, university stakeholders can quickly feel overwhelmed trying to identify the different partner opportunities in Milwaukee when designing new initiatives. My goal is to make it easier to navigate and reduce any friction to collaboration,” Otero explains.

Coming from a world of innovation as the former 707 Hub leader and a champion for both the Near West Side Partners and the community at large, Otero is helping to create strategic connections that allow for the exchange of knowledge and resources in the spirit of collaboration.

“I have been able to connect with colleagues across campus over the last few months, learning from and understanding their priorities for community engagement at Marquette. One of the key themes that keeps emerging is ‘Marquette in Milwaukee,’” Otero says. “There is a deep pride for the city and the role Marquette plays locally as an anchor institution — and the acknowledgement that there is more we can do.  Students, faculty, and staff are excited to build deeper roots and commitments locally — this will continue to be reflected in the community engagement opportunities and unique partnerships that emerge.”  

Fast facts:

  • Marquette University was recognized with the prestigious Carnegie Elective Classification for Community Engagement designation — one of only 357 campuses in the United States to currently hold this classification.
  • Over $17 million in care and services are provided by Marquette University centers and clinics annually.
  • Marquette has been invited to participate in the Anchor Institution Task Force (AITF) and share best practices about the anchor engagement with Near West Side Partners. 
  • The President’s and Chancellor’s Challenge has invested $650,000 into Milwaukee through collaborative, community-engaged research projects that came from this program. More than 30 researchers and 30 community partners have been engaged in this program.
  • Marquette University is one of two local universities in the Milwaukee Anchor Collaborative, which advances local purchasing and hiring in eight target zip codes.

Neighborhood partnerships:

  • The Near West Side Partners is a community collaboration to make this section of Milwaukee safer and more engaged. The organization’s anchor institutions include Marquette University, Harley-Davidson, Advocate Aurora Health, Molson Coors and Potawatomi Business Development Corporation. Through its efforts, NWSP has launched a crime reduction initiative, and it has also helped establish dozens of businesses, assisted in the creation of affordable housing and more.
  • The Marquette University Police Department has taken a proactive approach to mental health and created a new unit dedicated to address mental health crises. Implemented in January 2023, the Behavioral Health Unit works with the Marquette Counseling Center to provide an opportunity for police to look to resources other than the criminal justice system when mental health concerns arise.  

Renewed initiatives and allies

  • Blue & Gold Brewing LLC, a student-run business venture launched as part of an undergraduate applied learning program in the College of Business Administration, unveiled ’77 Golden Ale, which was released and sold on National Marquette Day. Blue & Gold Brewing LLC also partnered with Stone Creek Coffee — a local “farm to cup” coffee roastery for over 30 years — to develop a Marquette-affiliated coffee product to be released this fall.
  • A friendly higher education competition helped save lives through a blood drive at Versiti Blood Center of Wisconsin. In April, Marquette University beat Butler University in a new annual tradition to see which college can collect the most in blood donations and save the most lives.
  • Marquette students can now showcase their entrepreneurial spirit on Student-Made Marquette, a largely student-led arts collective made up of creators and innovators within the campus community. 
  • Marquette University offers a unique living experience that connects juniors, seniors or graduate students with an older generation. The Students in Residence Program offers an intergenerational living opportunity that pairs Marquette students with the St. Camillus Life Plan Community. St. Camillus provides off-campus housing to select Marquette students in exchange for weekly volunteer work. “It was the chance to get out of my comfort zone and experience something not many other individuals could say they have done,” says program participant Justin Cobe, an international affairs graduate student.