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Signature Partnership works to revitalize west Louisville

June 18th, 2007

“Come on Ralph, tell your fish story,” said Dan Hall, vice president for external affairs at the University of Louisville.

Ralph Fitzpatrick, associate vice president for external affairs, smiled and sighed heavily. He likes to tell the story, but he has told it many times. His story is a modified version of a well-known parable. It goes like this:

If a man comes to you and is hungry, you can either give him a fish to eat or teach him to fish. The popular belief is that you must teach him to fish so that he will learn to take care of himself and no longer go hungry. But there’s a component to the story that is missing: the pond. The truth is we need to give the man a fish to eat today, teach him to fish tomorrow and, just as importantly, make sure he has a pond to fish in for the future.


Speed School helps students learn engineering principles through fun activities. Will the student-designed packaging protect these eggs?

Fitzpatrick tells the story to demonstrate how UofL’s Signature Partnership program focuses on education (teaching someone to fish), yet doesn’t overlook the importance of infrastructure (the pond) to help those in need.

The Signature Partnership initiative is one of UofL’s most vital community outreach programs. At its core is a coalition of community organizations, programs and initiatives that seek to improve quality of life for west Louisville residents.

“When (UofL) President Ramsey spoke at his inauguration he made a promise that the university would be a good citizen and a good neighbor,” Fitzpatrick said. “The creation of Signature Partnership is one way he is making good on that promise.”

Geographically, the partnership targets the area of Louisville from Ninth Street west to the Ohio River and south to Algonquin Parkway. UofL sits on the southeast corner of the targeted region.

Every school or college within UofL participates in at least one partnership program.

The roots of the partnership began in 2003 when Ramsey asked for an audit of all university-affiliated community partnerships and programs. The audit revealed that UofL faculty, staff and students were engaged in more than 1,600 programs. But Ramsey wanted to know more. “Which ones are effective?” he asked.

Answering that question was tough. Fitzpatrick and Hall soon learned that many well-intentioned programs simply don’t have measurable outcomes. Even so, the two eventually were able to clarify and articulate desired outcomes. These became the basis for the partnership’s objectives.

“There are a lot of feel-good programs out there,” Hall said. “But we want to support those that are truly making an impact.”

ImageUofL dentists go into west Louisville in the city’s new mobile health unit.

Hall and Fitzpatrick want to underscore that the “partnership” is exactly that.

A west Louisville residents council gives advice and feedback to UofL’s external affairs office. External affairs then works closely with the University Community Partnership Advisory Board, which is the primary decision-making body for the partnership.

“Early on, we decided we would not go into west Louisville and say ‘Here’s what you’re going to do,” but rather we would act as partners to ask, ‘What should we be doing?’” Fitzpatrick said.

Today, the partnership focuses on education, economic development, social and human services and health. Fitzpatrick noted that education is the centerpiece of the program because “educational attainment is the most effective tool for long-term human revitalization.”

The partnership targets five west Louisville schools to boost educational achievement: Portland and Atkinson elementaries, Western Middle and Central and Shawnee high schools. At these schools, the partnership has helped launch new events and programs including: science and engineering demonstrations, dental screenings, career exploration, a mentoring program, college scholarships and encouraging more parent-teacher interaction.

As the partnership grows, Hall and Fitzpatrick said they are hearing more and more west Louisville success stories.

“It’s that moment of truth when you realize everything is working just like it’s supposed to,” Hall said.

Related Links
Signature Partnership
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UofL partners with city in mobile health unit
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