Saginaw Valley State University has developed productive partnerships with community organizations throughout the Great Lakes Bay Region. Relationships with the business community, other educational institutions, human services providers and local governments are prevalent; these benefit faculty, staff, students and the community at large.
These longstanding ties have played an important role in SVSU’s selection by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching as a university that has received its 2015 Community Engagement Classification.
Leaders with the Bay County Health Department, Midland Area Chamber of Commerce and United Way of Saginaw County spoke to how SVSU’s engagement with their organizations has benefited the people they serve and the region SVSU calls home.
Joel Strasz, health director for the Bay County Health Department, has been impressed by SVSU’s sustained commitment to the community.
“We've worked with a few organizations of higher learning in the past, but SVSU is different,” Strasz said. “They go beyond just ‘doing research.’ The instructors, staff, and students are fully engaged right here in Bay County. Their expertise and commitment have helped us immensely.
“We have partnered with SVSU on a variety of projects since 2009, from establishing the first real-time, state-of-the-art water testing laboratory for Bay County’s numerous beaches to opening a comprehensive, primary care clinic for persons with multiple chronic conditions. This unique partnership has allowed the two organizations to jointly develop strategies for research and education, provide excellent placements for students and faculty, and more importantly, provide innovative solutions for community problems.”
Bob Stafford, president and CEO of the Midland Area Chamber of Commerce, said SVSU has worked closely with regional businesses to connect academic offerings with industry needs, and to promote internships and other professional learning opportunities.
“SVSU has been an asset to the business community in many ways,” Stafford said. “They take an active role in fostering in-demand jobs for our workforce. Our chamber has partnered with them to create a connection to help train members of our business community that may not have access to training and professional development for sales, marketing, management, human resources and workforce compliance. With educational partners like SVSU, our business community can continue to grow with a well-trained, highly educated workforce.”
Stafford also praised SVSU’s participation as a thought leader to advance the region.
“SVSU was among a key group of forward-thinkers who understood that by banding surrounding counties together, our area could become stronger and attract more business to this area, not only creating jobs, but creating a better place to live, work and play. Great ideas are fostered and grown when strong organizations like SVSU take an active interest in the business community surrounding them, as they have for many years.”
Cherrie Benchley, president and CEO of the United Way of Saginaw County, said SVSU has been generous with resources and support to meet human services needs in the community.
“We are very proud of our long-standing, diverse partnerships with SVSU,” Benchley said. “Throughout the years our two organizations have collaborated on programs such as Holiday Wish List, Best Practices Nonprofit Management Institute, and other volunteer and leadership opportunities. It is always a rewarding experience working with the faculty and students at SVSU as their efforts allow us to expand our reach within the community impacting the areas of health, education and financial stability.”
Recently, SVSU and United Way have teamed up on the AmeriCorps Healthy Kids Healthy Futures Partnership Program to keep Saginaw County children safe, promote healthy lifestyles, increase collaboration among community agencies and to encourage the sharing of scarce community resources.
“Students and faculty at SVSU have played a crucial role in the program’s success,” Benchley said. “Partnering with SVSU has allowed the organizations we work with to expand their capacity, allowing them to serve more children and families. Furthermore, the college students set amazing examples for the youth while receiving real world, hands-on experience in the community. We feel that because of this partnership, this is a win-win program for all that are involved.”
National research has shown that students who are engaged in the community and on campus are more likely to be successful academically, and to have the critical thinking, problem-solving skills, self-efficacy, and adaptability desired by employers. By their senior year, more than 60 percent of SVSU students have engaged in co-curricular service outside of academic course work, and 84 percent have engaged with community employers and agencies in internships, field placements or some other component of their academic preparation.
SVSU was one of 83 U.S. colleges and universities who were successfully classified as community engaged institutions during the 2015 application cycle. To be selected, institutions provide descriptions and examples of institutionalized practices of community engagement that showed alignment among mission, culture, leadership, resources and practices. SVSU’s status will remain in effect for 10 years.