Student liaison program looks to iron out kinks

Program wrapping up first year, looking to make changes beginning next school year.

A University of Minnesota student liaison program, a pilot initiative that placed 18 students in the Southeast Como neighborhood and two in Marcy Holmes , is finishing its first year with mild success. Though the program did not achieve all the goals it hoped to, the group is now pondering how to best move the program forward. The student liaison program, which started in fall 2008, is designed to help build ties between residents and renters of the communities. Liaisons are expected to work five hours a week, meeting residents and planning events. They receive a $1,000 stipend each semester. Two representatives from the Southeast Como group said they want to make more of an effort marketing the program and also want to change the way leadership is structured. âÄúThe program right now, it has a lot of ideals that it was founded on that it hasnâÄôt had a chance to be able to live up to yet,âÄù said Paul Buchanan , a student liaison. Currently, all liaisons report to Kendre Turonie, coordinator for student and community relations and program creator. The Marcy Holmes Neighborhood Association cut its student liaison, which was separate from the UniversityâÄôs program, so the school hired two liaisons there in addition to the ones in Southeast Como. The program began in Southeast Como because there were more party complaints and conflicts between renters and residents, Turonie said. âÄúTo be honest, I guess you could say the squeaky wheel gets the attention,âÄù Turonie said. âÄúThere were some very squeaky wheels in Southeast Como last year.âÄù Buchanan and Katie Beddow , another liaison in Southeast Como, said running the program in addition to her other job was taxing, and James DeSota, community coordinator for the Southeast Como Improvement Association , agrees, saying she could use a lot more help to run a project this large. Buchanan and Beddon also said they are not used as resources in the community as much as they would like, and that it is hard to keep in contact with residents and renters. They feel changes to communication and increased marketing will increase their presence. One of their initial goals when beginning the program was to have a listserv with e-mail addresses from at least one person in every home by May 2009. Buchanan said they had achieved only between five and 10 percent of that. âÄúItâÄôs really difficult,âÄù he said. âÄúYou go door-knocking for three hours and you talk to maybe four people.âÄù The group has planned community events like cookouts and a bike workshop, and has co-planned and sponsored events with SECIA. All liaisons are assigned a committee and a block area to work with, so they do a lot of work with SECIA. DeSota said that liaisons are able to contribute in different capacities on each committee and said he thinks the biggest barrier for increased involvement is scheduling âÄî a lot of times it is hard for a liaison to attend every meeting. He said some committees make a better point of helping liaisons feel like they make a contribution. Overall, he said liaisons have been a helpful presence in the neighborhood and is excited to see the program progress. Turonie said she would like to see the program hire additional liaisons in Marcy Holmes next year, but expansion depends on the UniversityâÄôs budget.