The Community Stations at the University of California, San Diego are field-based hubs in underserved neighborhoods on both sides of the San Diego-Tijuana border, where experiential learning, research and teaching are conducted collaboratively with community-based non-profits, advancing a new model of community-university partnership and reciprocal knowledge production.

Through the Community Stations platform, we are rethinking the university’s relations with local marginalized communities, and blurring the conventional academic boundaries between “research, teaching and service.”

The Cross-Border Community Stations localize the global by asserting that ‘poverty is here, not only there’, and enable an immediacy typically not available to students in conventional academic programs in the US, who often travel thousands of miles from campus to experience global poverty, and only reconnect with the classroom afterwards. Our students can be doing fieldwork in the morning in Tijuana, in some of the poorest informal settlements in Latin America, and back that same afternoon on campus in San Diego. This model links theory and practice, temporally and spatially, and amplifies the power of experiential learning in situ.

There are currently three UCSD Community Stations operating throughout the region, each led by an interdisciplinary team of university faculty, and each focused on a particular cluster of urban and environmental issues:

  • The UCSD EarthLab Community Station based in the Southeast San Diego neighborhood of Encanto, in partnership with the nonprofit Groundwork San Diego and the San Diego Unified School District.
  • The UCSD Cross-Border Community Station at San Ysidro, based in the border neighborhood of San Ysidro, California in partnership with the nonprofit Casa Familiar.
  • The UCSD Cross-Border Community Station at Laureles Canyon, based in an informal settlement of 85,000 people on the periphery of Tijuana.

  • The UCSD Community Stations link the specialized knowledge of UC San Diego with the community-based knowledge embedded in marginalized neighborhoods on both sides of the border. This two-way flow - a mutual exchange of knowledge, inquiry and resources - is a new model of partnership between university and community-based agencies, redefining the idea of community service from a vertical conception of charitable "resource provision" or "applied research" - where the university is understood as the bearer of resources and knowledge and the community as the passive recipient or a mere subject of data gathering - to a collaborative, or horizontal, model of engagement, in which university and community partners mutually contribute resources and knowledge reciprocally, and actively participate in research, learning and problem solving. Our research shows that this horizontal model of community-university engagement cultivates leadership, community capacity, and ultimately produces better, more sustainable outcomes for both the university and community partners.

    Commitments of the UCSD Community Stations

    A new model of “service”:

    The UCSD Community Stations exemplify the University’s Principles of Community. Based on rigorous research on community engagement, the Community Stations redefine what it means for a university to “do service” in diverse, underserved communities. We reject a vertical conception of charity or “applied research” -- where the university is seen as the bearer of all resources and knowledge and the community a passive recipient or a mere subject of data gathering. Instead we embrace a collaborative, or lateral, model of engagement, in which university and community relate as partners both contributing resources and knowledges, and actively participating in collaborative research, learning and problem solving. Tipping the model from a vertical to a horizontal relationship is an ethical move.

    Diversity in situ: a new model of “experiential learning”:

    The UCSD Community Stations advance a distinctive approach to diversity and cultivating a campus culture of respect and decency – committed not only to diversifying campus demographics, but also to immersing our students in diverse, underserved communities that exemplify today’s most urgent social challenges. Here students learn the ethics of engagement, cultivating cultural sensitivity, suspending judgment, and learning how to listen and collaborate. These are skills that are best learned in situ, exemplifying UCSD’s commitment to experiential learning.


    Today’s social challenges are not confined to disciplines, nor can their solutions be. The UCSD Community Stations teach students how to become interdisciplinary problem- solvers. Student researchers come from the social sciences, arts and humanities, the natural and physical sciences, engineering and public health. They learn to analyze social disparity through multiple lenses, learn to communicate across disciplinary languages, and to collaborate with each other and with their community partners.

    Integral Ecology:

    A key objective of the Community Stations is to train students in the reconnaissance of specific territories, comprehending the complexity and interconnection among physical, ecological, social, economic, health, cultural and urban policy obstacles to meaningful change in underserved communities. The Community Stations mobilize visualization strategies to facilitate civic engagement and ignite community awareness of urban policy and impediments to social equity.

    The UCSD Community Stations network is the first of its kind in US public higher education, positioning UCSD as a leader in community-engaged research and teaching on issues of diversity, social disparity and uneven urbanization, contributing to its reputation as a campus committed to public service, research impact and accessibility.





    Each Community Station establishes its own unique mission, projects, research agenda and strategies in collaboration with community partners. What links the three stations is a model of community-university engagement, and their commitment to producing exemplary high-impact research and education on poverty, diversity and social inclusion:

    1. Each partners with a coordinated group of community-based organizations

    2. Each is committed to the principle of reciprocal knowledge production

    3. Each provides unique educational opportunities for experience-based undergraduate research

    4. Each works on a model of financial reciprocity. Communities contribute resources to partnership

    5. Each focuses on different aspects of diversity - disciplinary, demographic, generational, geographic, and according to many other criteria

    6. Each is complimentary with a variety of outreach programs across the campus

    7. Each is committed to assessing the impact of the Community Stations system as a whole



    While the precise research agenda of each Community Station is shaped and evolves in collaboration with our community partners, based on specific needs and aspirations, our projects typically fall within the following research tracks:

    Urban pedagogy: researching new strategies of community engagement and visual literacy to make the complexity of public policy more accessible to the community (students learn how to creatively organize an effective community workshop)

    Bottom-up climate action: using new technologies to assess soil, air and water quality, to democratize science and generate new evidence that supports more inclusive and just urban planning policies (students work with community residents to produce data otherwise impossible to generate from high-tech or specialized fields)

    Citizen-humanities: employing ethnographic research to study every-day practices and values embedded in the community to develop powerful arts and cultural interventions that expand community knowledge and the capacity for collective action.

    Participatory social science: designing surveys and focus groups to research social attitudes and behavioral norms in the community to rethink conventional strategies of civic engagement.

    Participatory design: collaborating with communities in the design and production of new civic infrastructure, emphasizing the positive relationship between public space, education and public health.

    Distributed telecommunications and informal education: researching and designing effective media platforms that enable the campus to communicate knowledge in inaccessible and vulnerable geographic zones (ie. telemedicine, distance learning)



    The UCSD Community Stations were recipient of the 2016 UCSD Equal Opportunity / Affirmative Action and Diversity Award