Wittenberg University students encouraged to connect with Springfield community

A Wittenberg University students head back to campus to kick off the 2021-22 school year, they’ll also be encouraged to find ways to become engaged in the City of Springfield as a whole.

With Wittenberg’s campus being just a short five minute walk from Downtown Springfield, the opportunities for students to enjoy the shopping, dining, fun and events are endless, says John Kelly, downtown events programmer for the Greater Springfield Partnership.

“In the last couple years, we’ve really tried to strategize how we can bridge the gap between the Wittenberg community and Downtown,” he says. “It helps to let the students really feel like part of the community.

“We want to really make them feel involved and really push the message that when they’re here they’re part of our community.”

Helping student build those strong community connections contributes to both student success and retention, Kelly says.

Feeling connected can help students take a more active role in community service opportunities and even encourage them to choose Springfield as a place to establish a life and career after college, he says.

“You’re always going to choose a place to work based on where you want to live,” Kelly says. “By us showing students the Springfield community and everything that it has to offer, we’re building that awareness piece and showing them that they don’t have to leave immediately after college.

“Springfield is becoming better and better as a place for young people, and by introducing them, we’re starting early to remind them, ‘Hey – there could be opportunities here for you.’”

As part of the new students’ welcome to Wittenberg this year, they’ll hear from Wittenberg alumni who have chosen to stay in Springfield after earning their degree, including Lauren “Lo” Houser, director of Project Jericho.

“Lo is a tremendous example of how her time at Wittenberg was this evolution of how she connected with Springfield and place and space and took advantage of her Wittenberg experience but also invested in the community to the point that she wanted to invest post-college,” says Jon Duraj, assistant vice president for student development at Wittenberg. “With new 18-year-old college students, its reminding them that this is a growth process. Lo is a also great example for students of how you can come in with one idea and one path, and see where it takes you from there.

“It’s the perfect blend of how we view the college experience with a growth mindset, not just a check-the-box process someone goes through. And that mirrors and marries with an investment here in Springfield. It’s not just about getting the degree or going to a class or the things you do on campus, but you’re part of a wider community and finding ways to take advantage of that.”

Building those connections earlier in students’ college journeys at Wittenberg can help improve talent retention, he says, adding that introducing new students to ways they can become immersed in the city is part of what this Welcome Week and this weekend’s Wittenberg “Downtown Takeover."

“It’s interesting hearing the stories of now Witt alumni who made the decision to stay in Springfield and invest their time and life – once they started getting plugged into the community with a social and professional connection, that’s when they started feeling most at home here,” Duraj says. “We’re introducing our first-year students to the value Springfield brings. As they’re making this their new home, we’re looking for ways we can introduce them to all that Downtown Springfield has … it’s like a first step.”

Incoming students will go on a tour of Downtown Springfield created with the help of the Turner Foundation’s resident Historian Kevin Rose, also a Wittenberg grad. The tour will highlight attractive places to live, work and play in the city’s core and showcase how close campus is to Springfield’s continually growing, active Downtown, Kelly says.

The tour will include a stop at Champion City Guide & Supply, where students will receive welcome bags full of information about Springfield, and will have stops where students can take photos with some of the public art featured Downtown.

At the close of Welcome Week, incoming students will each receive a token – similar to a gift card – that they can use to patronize local Downtown businesses.
Kelly emphasized the importance of area businesses being on board to participate in helping students feel included as part of the Springfield community.

The goal of the tokens is to encourage students to take time after Welcome Week to explore the city on their own and with friends to make connections themselves.

“Our goal is to bridge the gap between Wittenberg and Downtown,” Kelly says, adding, “When creating and marketing Downtown events, we keep the university in mind and look forward to our continued partnership with Wittenberg staff in increasing the awareness of the various activities and amenities Downtown has to offer.”
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Read more articles by Natalie Driscoll.