Neighborhood groups lack student involvement

High turnover and the academic calendar make serving difficult.

by Anissa Stocks

The Southeast Como and Marcy-Holmes neighborhoods have long sought involvement from the thousands of University of Minnesota students living in the two communities.

Both neighborhoods have active organizations whose bylaws designate two board seats to students. But a lack of student interest and difficulties recruiting make the positions hard to fill.

While ties to the student population have steadily increased over the past five years, the neighborhood groups still say thereâÄôs room for improvement..

âÄúItâÄôs more twisting arms getting people to run for [seats], to be honest,âÄù said James De Sota, neighborhood director for the Southeast Como Improvement Association.

SECIA currently has two students who serve as general members on its board. But it lost a student  representative last fall and is looking for a replacement. As a three-year term, the seat can be a big commitment for some,, De Sota said.

âÄúEvery year is a new process,âÄù he said. âÄúIt really is a block-by-block experience in the neighborhoods surrounding the [University].âÄù

Not all University-area neighborhoods have designated positions for students. Prospect Park, which encompasses parts of East Bank, doesnâÄôt designate student spots on its organizationâÄôs 40-member board of directors. But the group âÄî Prospect Park East River Road Improvement Association­ âÄî identified more student representation and involvement as one of its goals last year.

As more young people move into the area each year, the neighborhood works to increase student involvement in the group, President Dick Poppele said.

âÄúWe donâÄôt think of students as representing a certain block of individuals,âÄù he said. âÄúWe treat everybody as a resident.âÄù

Recently, PPERRIA hired consultants to help spread the word of its new, more student-friendly direction.

Groups like the UniversityâÄôs Student Neighborhood Liaisons also provide outreach for young residents in the area, sometimes assisting neighborhood groups to fill vacant board seats.

ItâÄôs a struggle, said Kendre Turonie, coordinator for Student and Community Relations at the University.

She said the academic calendar and studentsâÄô shifting living situations often inhibit year-long participation.

While student involvement in neighborhood planning doesnâÄôt happen overnight, some students believe active participation is a critical part in improving neighborhood conversation.

Graduate student Brandon Baumbach moved to Cedar Riverside last year to work with some of the neighborhoodâÄôs organizations, including the African Development Center.

Baumbach is enrolled in the Humphrey School of Public AffairsâÄô CHANCE program. The program annually selects 10 students to work with local businesses and community members to create long-term projects benefiting the area.

The community-based research approach is the first step to improving student-neighborhood relationships in the area, said Baumbach, who also sits on the West Bank Community CoalitionâÄôs board of directors.

The WBCC is looking at student focus groups as tools to relay student-resident concerns, said Michael Schmitz the organizationâÄôs executive director.

Similar initiatives have materialized in Marcy-Holmes in recent years. Student focus groups are already underway, providing feedback for the community. The neighborhood currently has one of its two reserved student seats open. student.

Southeast Como takes on a different approach âÄî, the group tries to encourage daily participation, with about 100 students working with SECIA, often as volunteers and interns. s.

âÄúWe wouldnâÄôt be doing our jobs if we werenâÄôt trying to engage the student body,âÄù De Sota said.