Town-gown relations a high priority for Penn State

UNIVERSITY PARY, Pa. -- The line between town and gown is growing thinner as Penn State University Park and State College Borough continue to partner on efforts to better community engagement.

“Partnerships really help the community because we’re able to move projects and undertake activities that probably in our budget cycle we may not have been able to get to for a few years,” said Borough Manager Tom Fountaine. “We’re able to move those along on a little better timetable.”

Fountaine was part of a panel that spoke today (Nov. 21) to the Board of Trustees Academic Affairs and Student Life Committee about the impact town-gown relations have on academic and student life issues.

Panel members discussed the successes and challenges of these partnerships, citing examples including the Sustainable Communities Initiative, which in September announced a partnership with the State College Borough that will engage students at University Park with the community in a pilot program that links community-based sustainability projects with existing courses across the University.

“We’ve had conversations ongoing for some time now to develop a program that really is a huge benefit to Penn State students in terms of practical projects that have direct benefit to the community,” Fountaine said. “One of the projects provided additional information and assistance for the planning department on the use of Allen Street for special events and festivals. It’s helped to inform some of the discussions to help with the implementation of the downtown master plan for State College.” 

The panel, which was moderated by Damon Sims, vice president for Student Affairs, was made up of University and community representatives, including Fountaine; Steve Maruszewski, assistant vice president for Physical Plant at Penn State; Ron Filippelli, a borough councilman and former associate dean of the College of the Liberal Arts; and Chase Englund, the University Park Undergraduate Association (UPUA) Borough Council representative.

The panel also discussed many other initiatives such as the partnership between the Borough and UPUA that led to the creation of a UPUA representative to the Borough Council and other collaborative projects with the Division of Student Affairs at Penn State, as well as service-learning and other academic connections between the community and Penn State.

“Having a student representative on council has certainly helped us communicate more effectively with students, and it’s provided them with a voice in the policy-making process alongside our elected officials,” Fountaine said.

The University and the borough currently are working on jointly funding a Community Engagement Office in the Borough Building on Allen Street to serve the needs of all downtown residents. The borough and Student Affairs are in the process of hiring a leader for the office and hope it will open in the next few months, Fountaine said.

“A big part of that role is to work with student and non-student residents in the community to improve the quality of life and the relationships that exist within the neighborhoods,” he said.

The panel also stressed that the University and the borough always are looking for more ways to collaborate.

“I think it's fair to say that there are endless opportunities for other collaborations,” said Sims. “Among the most important may focus on the nature of the downtown environment and ways to spark increased positive activity there, encouraging permanent residents and young professionals to move into areas near campus, and possible innovative strategies to encourage entrepreneurial ventures and other new enterprises.”

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Last Updated November 25, 2013