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Barajas named as UROC executive director

Heidi BarajasRobert J. Jones, senior vice president for Academic Administration, University of Minnesota System, on March 25 announced the appointment of Heidi Lasley Barajas as executive director of the University of Minnesota Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC).

“Heidi brings to UROC a unique breadth of experience as a collaborative leader, creative thinker, and community-engaged scholar in diverse settings," said Jones, who oversees UROC and other central University public engagement initiatives.

“Her proven strengths as a consensus builder and communicator, her history at forging strong relationships within and outside the university, and her administrative and academic credentials all made her the top choice to lead the center.”

Barajas is the associate dean for engagement and faculty development in the College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) and an associate professor (and founding chair) of postsecondary teaching and learning. She has been coleader of the interim executive team guiding UROC since its May 2010 grand opening in North Minneapolis as a hub for university-community research partnerships aimed at strengthening urban communities.

As UROC executive director, Barajas will provide both administrative and strategic leadership for UROC, which links the resources of the University with those of government, business, and community organizations to address complex urban challenges of education, health, and community and economic development. The center is home to a dozen resident programs and many campus-community projects in a University-owned and renovated building at Plymouth and Penn Avenues.

“I am thrilled that we have this extraordinary University-community enterprise called UROC. I’m deeply honored that I can be part of it,” said Barajas.

Barajas will work with Jones and many University and community partners to advance UROC research priorities; to nurture partnerships that improve quality of life in North Minneapolis and strengthen the entire region and state; and to build new models of university public engagement and urban development. Broadening the engagement of faculty, developing evaluation tools, and guiding the center toward long-term impact and sustainability will be among the high-priority challenges, according to Jones, who calls Barajas “an ideal choice to lead UROC to the next level.”

As CEHD associate dean since 2007, Barajas has worked to link research and teaching with pressing community needs and to build long-term campus-community partnerships. A sociologist by training, Barajas joined the University of Minnesota faculty in 2000 as an assistant professor in General College. She is a team leader for the Office of Public Engagement and an affiliate with the Department of Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development.

Her research, teaching, and public service focus on institutional issues related to access and equity, especially how to build public schools that support students across differences of race, gender, and class. Another interest is how innovative pedagogy such as service-learning and universal instructional design may support multicultural learning environments and improve learning outcomes.

Barajas has served as a core member of the University Northside Partnership and helped shape UROC strategic planning. She cochairs the advisory committee for the Hennepin University Partnership, serves on the oversight body for the county’s AGRAD initiative to boost graduation rates and reduce achievement disparities, and is a board member of Hope Community, a neighborhood revitalization initiative in South Central Minneapolis.

Barajas, a native of Riverside, Calif., received a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Minnesota as a National Science Foundation Fellow; she also holds a B.A. in Spanish and education and a master’s degree in sociology from the University of Utah. Barajas, who lives in Minneapolis, has four grown children and four grandchildren.

The search for the executive director post was coordinated by a University-community search committee cochaired by Andrew Furco of the University’s Office of Public Engagement and Sondra Samuels of the PEACE Foundation/Northside Achievement Zone.

Jones expressed his appreciation for the contributions of Geoffrey Maruyama and Rose Brewer, who served with Barajas on the interim leadership team and who also were finalists for the executive director post. Both will continue to be involved with UROC.


The University of Minnesota UROC building at Plymouth and Penn avenues in North Minneapolis is open Monday–Friday
from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Related Sites

Office for Public Engagement