Fresno State to host urban conference

Fresno State will host a national conference this fall that explores how universities can team with government, businesses and others to help build strong urban communities.

About 400 people -- ranging from city officials to academics -- are expected to attend the 16th annual Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities conference that runs Oct. 24 to 26.

The theme, "Aligning the Metropolitan University with Business, Government and the Nonprofit Sectors," will invite discussion of ways in which those partners work together. Topics include using university research as a tool to improve urban schools, the effect of K-12 partnerships on metropolitan communities and increasing college access.

A variety of papers will highlight partnerships between universities and communities. Organizers say such bonds are increasingly important as projections show that close to 90% of Americans will live in urban areas by 2030.

Lynnette Zelezny, the conference chair and associate dean of the Craig School of Business, said participants will trade ideas, experiences and strategies.

"All the players on urban issues are going to be around the table," she said.

Those players include Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, one of the event's featured speakers; keynote speaker Richard Florida, author of the best-seller "The Rise of the Creative Class"; and speaker Heather McLeod Grant, co-author of "Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits."

During the conference, officials will showcase a partnership between Fresno State, the city and other organizations that focuses on the Lowell neighborhood at downtown's northern edge.

Fresno State students, faculty and administrators are among those working to revitalize one of the city's most historic and impoverished residential areas.

Craig Scharton, the city's director of downtown and community revitalization, said officials hope to apply the model in other areas.

"It's really become our template for how we are going to do revitalization," he said.

Zelezny said this is one of the few times the conference has been held on the West Coast. She said Fresno State President John Welty worked to land the conference during the university's centennial year.

Via e-mail, Welty called it an honor to host the conference and "a tribute to the national stature we have gained as an engaged university."