Will Lutterman is a sophomore studying Economics, Environmental Studies and Statistics at St Olaf College. In his first year at St Olaf, Will wanted to pursue his passion for public policy through opportunities that would give him practical experience. He explains, “I see my college education going hand in hand with community development work. They are equally valuable to me.” In exploring his options, he was connected to a city councilwoman who opened the door for him to get involved in many projects throughout the community. Among the many projects Will was heavily involved in were Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE), Northfield Downtown Development Corporation (NDDC), Northfield Marriage Amendment Opposition, Northfield Anaerobic Digester, and an independent study on job creation in Northfield. Will says, “[Public policy] is exactly what I want to do when I graduate. I’m using this to build a repertoire of passion, strengths, skills, and experience in order to tackle the larger world head on.”
Through all of his community involvement Will has taken on an incredible amount of leadership roles and pursued many impressive opportunities for civic engagement. For example, through PACE Will was able to research and present a new style of energy retrofitting program. He even wrote the Northfield’s documentation and designed the entire program. Through NDDC Will built a database of local businesses, crunched data on the town’s industry profile and is now working to provide and analysis of the local economy to promote economic development. He provided the City Council with information about the proposed Marriage Amendment and testified in opposition, which brought the council to approve a resolution to publicly oppose the amendment. This fall, Will began to do research for an initial feasibility study of a proposed anaerobic digester near Northfield. Currently, he is preparing for a J-Term independent study for which he plans to do a comprehensive job creation analysis of Northfield based on his previous work through NDDC. This will ultimately serve an academic purpose as well as advise the city in regards to economic development.
Will has found that after only one year at St Olaf his civic engagement service has connected him with the community on a very intimate level. He says, “I grew up in the Twin Cities, but Northfield is my real home. After living here only a year, I find joy coming back and I want to make a real and serious commitment to a place where I see people coming together and living their lives in the best ways possible.”
The University of Minnesota Morris is one of the most environmentally responsible colleges in the United States with recognition from multiple national organizations. Civic engagement and sustainable, environmentally friendly focused initiatives are foundational pieces of the institution’s mission. Students seeking change in their local communities have led these efforts and have also received national leadership recognition for their efforts.
Students are involved in many outreach programs that promote community engagement as it relates to Morris’ core values of sustainability. For example, the University of Minnesota Morris has programs such as the Center for Small Towns, Minnesota GreenCorps, and the West Central Regional Development Partnership. Senior Seth Elsen is very involved in the Center for Small Towns and was able to pursue an internship at the Upper Sioux Indian Community through the Center for Small Towns. Elsen did research and conducted a feasibility study for the Upper Sioux Community on wind and solar energy prospects for the reservation trust lands before presenting his findings to the organization. He said, “During my presentation, I stood there knowing I was making a difference, and hopefully helping make something very big happen for the community, both economically and environmentally.”
Laura Anne Hunt is also a Senior at Morris but has been very involved in the Minnesota GreenCorps program at the University of Minnesota Morris. Within the program Hunt has chosen to focus on green infrastructure, specifically urban forestry. As a GreenCorps member, Laura Anne began the conversation about trees in her community to help people understand why they are so important and beneficial, threats to trees, and how community members can contribute. She says, “This experience has opened my eyes to real-world work, professional relationship building and growth. It was a great experience to have as a college student, because I could start a project and still have all of the resources of the University to learn from and get help from.”
Through Morris’ sustainable civic engagement programs, students like Hunt and Elsen are given the opportunity to enrich their college experience and provide resources to local communities they are passionate about. Elsen said, “It has given me a way to gain experience in possible careers, while also giving me a chance to apply what I learn in classrooms to the real-world setting. I am very grateful for the opportunities that have been given to me here at University of Minnesota Morris.”
Click here to learn more about sustainability at University of Minnesota Morris.
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By Janet Lewis Muth
This summer I attended the State of the State conference hosted by MN Campus Compact at Macalester College. While I appreciated all of the speakers in the “TED Talk” style sessions, I was most drawn to the message delivered by Dick Senese, from University of Minnesota Extension. His main message – or at least what I took away from it – was that we too often surround ourselves by the messages that we already agree with, and neglect to listen to those messages that conflict with our already held beliefs about an issue.
I was intrigued enough by the topic to sit in on his small group discussion – and found myself the only community partner present in the group. The conversation was a nice deepening of what he’d presented, along with resource and idea sharing for folks with specific issues they wanted to explore or address. I raised the issue of having difficulty partnering with a group in our community because of their perception of who we are as an organization – and in particular who we aim to serve. One of the ideas presented was to seek out an intermediary – or spanner – who has a relationship both with the group in question and our organization. The point was to use existing relationships to strengthen avenues of communication and to even build new relationships. I left the conference feeling far more confident than I had in weeks about how to move forward on several issues in our work.
So how did it work out? In one instance, it didn’t really pan out. We were trying to engage the local vendors at the farmers’ market to support the use of a card reader that would allow customers to shop using a debit card or their food support dollars. We met with the local Chamber of Commerce to discuss the issue, and while they weren’t able to help us create new relationships or lines of communication, we did strengthen our relationship with them by broaching the subject and using them as a resource. In the other instance, it appears to be working out quite well. We’ve been dealing with a large-scale bed bug infestation in many of the low-income apartment complexes in our community. We learned about the issue through tenants of the apartments who were frustrated at being asked to pay for the extermination costs. Our initial approach was to pursue legal means to force landlords to pay for the extermination and relieve low-income families from this burden. But through several conversations with multiple parties with whom we have relationships and who also have relationships with the landlords, it became clear that we were ignoring the significant problem/cost/burden that is placed on the landlords in this type of situation. We have not yet come to a solution, but we have already partnered with Public Health to deliver a forum on the issue and are actively working to develop more educational opportunities for tenants. In addition, we are pursuing a conversation with a City inspector, introduced to us through our partnership with Public Health, with the goal of brainstorming solutions that are acceptable to all parties involved. I no longer feel like we are fighting an impossible battle; I feel like we are on the path toward cooperation.
In short, we’ve learned to take a step back from the really tough issues and approach them less from an “Us or Them” mentality and more from a “We’re in This Together” mentality. Many thanks to Campus Compact for sponsoring the event and giving us the resources to move our work forward in such a positive way!
Janet Lewis Muth is Project Coordinator at Growing Up Healthy in Rice County.