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In recent years, practitioners, faculty, administrators and students have called for institutions of higher education to undergo change in order to more fully embrace their civic roles. However, little research on this topic has examined how universities might undertake institutional change efforts for these purposes. In particular, scant attention has been given to understanding the rationale for developing university centers for community partnerships and how they might begin to stimulate public research universities to embed engagement into the institution. Therefore, the focus of this paper is the presentation of findings from a case study at one public research university. In particular, the early operation of a new center for community partnerships is explored to understand how perceptions of campus discourse and practice around community engagement were influenced in order to embed institutional engagement.