35th Anniversary Edition

Laying the Foundation


Robert H. Bruininks served as president of the University of Minnesota from 2002 to 2011 and co-founded and led the Institute on Community Integration and a predecessor organization from 1985 to 1991. He may be reached at bruin001@umn.edu.

Two older men and an older woman stand together. The woman holds open a certificate, and one of the men holds a clear obelisk award.

David Johnson, Sandy Christensen, and Robert Bruininks at the University of Minnesota.

The story begins in the late 1970s, when a group of colleagues created foundational elements for the Institute. In the earlier decade, the federal government established a network of university-affiliated centers to advance interdisciplinary education, research, services, and community supports for citizens with developmental disabilities and their families. The University of Minnesota prepared a preliminary application for one of these centers, but it was not submitted. It was a significant, lost opportunity for the University and Minnesota communities and families.

I returned to the University after a two-year commitment as director of the Office of Developmental Disabilities in Minnesota’s State Planning Agency. This appointment afforded me many opportunities to advance policies and community support for people with developmental disabilities and their families; it also introduced me to the work of the University-Affiliated Centers. The opportunity for new centers was closed, so an energetic and creative group of colleagues started to do the next best thing: they started to write a series of grant proposals to support similar lines of interdisciplinary education and research. These efforts led to the funding of a national data collection system of residential living facilities and programs, which in turn supported the creation of the Research and Training Center on Community Living. Several years later, pressures to expand the University-Affiliated Centers program led to support of satellite programs to existing centers. In 1984, the University of Minnesota received a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to establish a satellite program to the University of Iowa. Subsequent applications led to funding ICI as a full University Affiliated Center, later named the Minnesota University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities.

Black and white photo of a middle-aged man in a suit sitting in a chair in front of a large bookcase.


The founding members of ICI believed strongly in a values-centered foundation for the work of the Institute, one that emphasized equality, opportunity, empowerment, and full citizenship for people with disabilities in the normal settings of everyday life. We also believed that the Institute’s work should support innovation and best practices through sound public policies and community-based services and supports. The commitment to these principles naturally led us to consider the strategies most likely to contribute to improvements needed to enhance the lives and futures of people with disabilities. So, we sought to increase the influence of our work by creating a publication called Impact.

Impact was designed to deepen the connection between research and practice, and to quicken the time needed to support development and inclusion of people with disabilities and their families in communities. The aspiration was to make ICI a force for change and reform. To achieve this vision, we felt that we needed to get relevant and clear information to people on a timelier basis. University scholars usually spend much of their time writing articles, monographs, and chapters to disseminate findings and recommendations, a normal three-year cycle. Impact was designed to shorten this cycle by selecting topical themes related to critical challenges and issues, frequently involving relevant research trends, profiles of best practices, and dialogues and debates on new directions. The themes were selected to reflect challenges, issues, and trends on the “critical path” toward insuring greater independence and inclusion of people with disabilities in the normal opportunities of society.

James Bryant Conant, commenting about the power and benefits of scientific progress, once wrote that science is a means of reducing trial and error in everyday life. For 35 years, Impact has shared the benefits of research, innovation, and tested experience. It has shared research trends to better shape the direction of public policies and promoted evidence-based practices. Good judgment depends upon sound and timely information. Impact has been that informative bridge to a more values-based future in the cause of improving opportunity, engagement, and quality of life for people with disabilities. Congratulations on this 35th anniversary of informative contributions.

(Portions of this column were based upon my remarks at previous anniversary celebrations of the Institute on Community Integration and in the 25th Anniversary Issue of Impact in 2014.)

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