Areas of Focus - Joseph C. Cornwall Center for Metropolitan Studies Skip to main content

Cornwall’s work falls into three categories:

  • Research. Cornwall works closely with communities, philanthropic organizations, and the public sector to increase the body of knowledge about what works in urban and regional policy development and how.
  • Demonstration Projects. Cornwall is interested in projects that show how good research can be translated into impactful social interventions; our role is to incubate promising projects.
  • Public Informing. Cornwall works to make sure that stakeholders and decision-makers are armed with the best possible information and have opportunities to discuss it with one another.

Research has not made the kinds of contribution to the resolution of social inequity and injustice once hoped for it. The rapidly growing calls, across disciplines, for continuous improvement research or translational research or improvement science reflect the desire to make social research more useful. Approaches differ but a common thread is seeing research as a continuous process of learning how to get better. One tries something, measures impact, makes adjustments, and tries again, learning from mistakes as well as successes. In this work, the distinction between doers and thinkers is deliberately blurred.  Stakeholders, with their typically more nuanced understanding of the context, can be involved at all steps in the process.  Given the urgency and complexity of the problems we are addressing, it makes sense to look carefully for strategic solutions, those that can bring large payoffs, or multiple kinds of payoffs, and which can actually be implemented well under the existing social and political conditions.

Educational inequality is among our main concerns and our work there tends to center on three areas of inquiry and practice:

  • Improving Instructional Quality. How can urban systems develop and sustain high-quality, challenging, intellectually ambitious teaching practices?
  • Improving Secondary and Postsecondary Outcomes. How can urban school systems ensure that more students graduate high school ready for college and the workforce and, in fact, complete college or the necessary training for good entry-level employment?
  • Developing Citizens/Transformative Education. What educational experiences help youngsters develop the “political self-respect and collective self-confidence” that will help them become engaged citizens, community leaders, and change agents? What can we learn about this from the experience of Freedom Schools, community schools, the Abbott Leadership Institute, the Clemente Course in the Humanities, restorative justice, rites of passage programs, and other experiences that transform students’ sense of their own possibilities and relationships to others?  We see this work as directly in the tradition of Ella Baker, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and Paulo Freire.

Demonstration projects give us another way to ensure that research gets translated into real practice. Cornwall helps shape projects, staffs them, helps develop the resource base, and, with its community partners, does the capacity-building to ensure projects’ long-term viability. Capacity-building can happen at the level of individuals, organizations, perhaps even neighborhoods.

Sometimes public informing means presenting new, relevant research, but sometimes it means bringing new attention to previously existing research, or improving the accessibility of data, especially for groups normally excluded from those discussions. The Cornwall Center serves as a convening hub for area stakeholders and institutions, supporting workshops, lectures, talks, and symposia. We strive to be neutral ground, where people of disparate views and interests can come together around questions of mutual interests. We hope to help build relationships and networks that contribute to good work in New Jersey.

The Robert Curvin Postdoctoral Fellowship for Engaged Scholarship

Robert Curvin (1943-2015) epitomized the traditions of engaged scholarship on urban issues that the Cornwall Center tries to emulate. Residents of Newark would have a hard time thinking of a scholar more committed to their city and its well-being than Bob Curvin. After military service with the famed 101st Airborne, Curvin graduated from Rutgers University-Newark in 1960 where he later earned his MSW at the School of Social Work. He earned his doctorate in political science from Princeton University. He co-founded the Newark-Essex County chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality, which launched aggressive campaigns against discrimination in employment and housing and against police brutality, calling for a civilian review board. After Newark’s 1967 rebellion, Dr. Curvin was instrumental in the development of the New Community Corporation, dedicated to providing safe and affordable housing in Newark’s Central Ward. He played a pivotal role in the campaign to elect Newark’s first Black mayor, Kenneth Gibson.

Dr. Curvin later served as director of the Ford Foundation’s Urban Poverty Program, dean of the Milano School of Management and Urban Policy at the New School, chairman of the Fund for the City of New York, a senior policy fellow at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers, director of the Ford Foundation’s Urban Poverty Program, a member of the editorial board of The New York Times, and a trustee of Princeton University.

Of his Inside Newark: Decline, Rebellion and the Search for Transformation (2014), one reviewer noted “Robert Curvin’s aggressive research, candid narration, and unflinching judgments leave you informed, sobered, and guardedly optimistic… Inside Newark is a book in the great tradition of Steffens’s The Shame of the Cities.” The New York Times called him “a fiercely loyal advocate for Newark who never gave up on his troubled city and devoted a scholarly career to alleviating urban poverty.”

Normally offered every other year, the Robert Curvin Postdoctoral Fellowship honors Dr. Curvin by helping young scholars develop into difference-makers beyond the academy. They support the information and research needs of community activists and individuals, work closely with practitioners, and help execute research that yields actionable findings. Fellows will leave the program as part of a network of engaged scholars.