There is a consensus on campus about the need for greater involvement in the Poughkeepsie community. This theme emerged at the beginning of President Hill’s tenure and was the topic of discussion at the last All College Day. A year ago, a campus-wide committee (Campus-Community Advisory Committee) formed to assess Vassar’s various community relationships. In President Hill’s letter to prospective members – more than 20 Vassar employees and students from offices, organizations, and departments across campus – she explained that the committee would “determine what we do well, what we could improve upon, and what we still need to do.”
First on the CCAC’s agenda was to review a report on the college’s community-related activities, compiled the previous year by the Development and Dean of the College offices. Among the report’s findings: dozens of Vassar students tutor weekly in the local schools; for more than 20 years, thousands of area school children have participated in Exploring Science at Vassar Farm; through the Good Neighbors Partnership begun by President Fergusson, Vassar has provided several seed grants for educational and community improvement projects in the immediate Arlington area, and built important new Vassar partnerships in the neighborhood.
“It was eye-opening. I don’t think anyone at Vassar was aware of all the things that were going on,” says committee cochair James Challey, lecturer in physics. “At the same time, we began to see the need for better coordination.” For example, a student on the committee recounted the experience of two student groups separately showing up at Poughkeepsie High School at the same time, unsure of why the other group was there and perplexing high school officials.
Before suggesting any new ways for the college to engage with the community, the committee decided first to look for ways that the college could better support some of the core activities already underway. The need for more reliable transportation into Poughkeepsie emerged as a common challenge for community-oriented programs.
“When people talked about what they were doing, they seemed to always mention the trouble they were having getting people to off-campus sites, and students were quick to point out that transportation was a key priority for them. In fact, one of the VSA’s chief goals for the year is to find transportation options that make it easier for students to get out into the community,” says Jeff Kosmacher, committee cochair and director of media relations. The CCAC’s transportation subcommittee successfully recommended to the college’s senior officers that Vassar try a downtown shuttle service this semester as a pilot project. The shuttle is expected to be up and running by mid-February.
Nearly a year into its efforts, the CCAC has also formed a subcommittee to strengthen Vassar’s relationships with Arlington businesses and local government. Another subgroup is looking at ways to improve the experience of visitors to the campus, from parking to signage. A third group is assessing the academic aspects of the college’s community connections.
“Perhaps the most important thing we’ve learned in the committee is that when it comes to the community, everyone at Vassar needs to think beyond their individual good intentions,” said Kosmacher. “We’re a very independent and entrepreneurial bunch, but we can have a greater impact and build much stronger community ties if we improve the way we work together as a campus.”
This article to appear in the next On Campus, available later this month.