Extending the Campus to the Local Community
College Career Offices can be a valuable player in helping to facilitate a positive relationship between our campus and town communities. One of the most valuable resources we, as a college, have to offer is the talent and enthusiasm of the young people who attend our institutions. Through our experience working with employers, we recognize the ways in which our students can contribute to a community as well as how much these work experiences inform students’ education and support their development.
Every winter since Bennington College’s nascence, all its undergraduates are required to complete a Field Work Term. Students seek out sites all over the world, taking their skills and talents to organizations across 6 continents and bringing what they learn from these organizations and communities back to campus. Field Work Term’s value is recognized by both the college and students. Likewise, we have established strong relationships with sites around the world, connected by the students to people we will likely never meet.
If we can develop strong, positive relationships with organizations in such varied communities why do we struggle to connect with our neighbors? A year ago, Bennington piloted the Local Field Experience, a Field Work Term program during which students work in the town of Bennington to fulfill their requirement.
The first challenge we faced in developing this program was finding organizations who we thought would be of interest to students, and who would want to work with a student for 6 weeks during the winter. We began by identifying community members in local organizations through personal networks as well as a few local alumni.
Next, we invited everyone to a breakfast meeting on campus to share our ideas regarding building a program for students to do their Field Work Term locally. The feedback we received not only helped us better understand their needs but was also used to develop the pilot program.
We then contacted others with an invitation to participate in the program. One of the most valuable steps we took was to arrange face to face meetings whenever possible and to meet at the organization’s site. This not only provided us with an opportunity to learn more about the organization, but also demonstrated our recognition of the community partners as colleagues.
Finally, during this pilot, we made sure to invite our community partners to all events, including lectures and other programs offered on campus. At each of these events, we made an effort to greet and recognize these partners, thanking them for making this program happen.
Through our final assessment we learned that students finished the program with a different understanding and relationship with the local community and felt more connected. We also discovered the change in perception among community partners. While some may not have changed their entire perspective of the College as a whole, participating in the education of students and having developed a relationship with a few key people opened the gates to the campus. And, as always happens with Field Work Term, the students shared with their peers the stories of what they learned from the people they worked with over their winter term, in Bennington.
Tammy Fraser is the Director of Field Work Term and Career Development at Bennington College.
Bennington College is a small, private liberal arts college, enrolling approximately 670 undergraduates. It is located in Bennington, Vermont, which is 40 miles east of Albany, NY, 110 miles south of Burlington, VT and around 150 miles from both New York and Boston. Visit http://www.bennington.edu for more information.