April Spotlight: Center for Small Towns
1) Describe the work of your office
The University of Minnesota, Morris Center for Small Towns (CST) is a community outreach program that serves as a point-of-entry to the resources of the University of Minnesota. Small towns, local units of government, k-12 schools, nonprofit organizations, and other University units are able to utilize the Center's resources as they work on rural issues or make contributions to rural society. Their mission is to focus the University's attention and marshal its resources toward assisting Minnesota's small towns with locally identified issues by creating applied learning opportunities for faculty and students. CST provides assistance on community and economic development projects--often involving more research or expertise than small towns can afford or provide for themselves. At the same time, CST works to involve University of Minnesota, Morris faculty and students in the challenges and issues facing rural communities, which provides students with rich opportunities for applied learning.
The Center for Small Towns exists on four main cornerstones to assist small towns in brokering and collaboration; convening activities; community support; and research, information, data analysis, and reporting services for small towns. At the center in this web of methodologies is University of Minnesota, Morris students. While CST does have a large range of goals, one of the unique things about the organization is that there is not specific programming, but rather the ability to adapt services to the current needs of rural communities. CST would not be able to offer its unique and expansive range of initiatives and projects without the hard work and dedication of the students that work in the office. Students take the forefront in connecting small towns with resources, bringing members of communities and organizations together, building and working on community centered projects, as well as creating, analyzing and organizing complex sets of data for communities.
CST doesn't only focus on specific projects, but aims to broaden its reach, interact, and connect with more communities throughout the state, through the Small Town Harvesting initiative. CST sends two staffers out on the road regularly to meet with and hear from individuals and organizations within small towns all over the state. The goal is to be on the road once or twice a month, and to record and detail the visits to paint a better picture of rural communities in Minnesota, as well as better understand where the Center's place as an outreach center is in that system.
2) What is a current engagement project your unit is working?
The Center for Small Towns has a multitude of diverse and ambitious projects being actively worked on and waiting on deck to be put into progress when resources are available. Because of CST's four main methodologies it's hard to look at just one project that the unit is working on because everything CST does is collaboration, and falls under different aspects of the Center's cornerstones. Currently there are four different projects that all together exemplify the broad range of CST's skill set and talents.
Currently CST is working to collect and analyze data for Lac qui Parle (LqP) County's "Computer Commuter" initiative which focuses on bringing comprehensive technology education to the county as a whole, and making that information accessible. The LqP Computer Commuter consists of a small reconstituted bus now filled with active mobile technology workstations. Community members board the vehicle and then can receive one on one training and attention from staff members on the bus. Two CST students are currently gathering statistical and qualitative information on the success and reach of the initiative, and plan to present a report and summary of what they've found out regarding the initiative.
The Center for Small Towns is also actively working with community support in the Starbuck community just outside of Morris. One student employee, also a native of Starbuck, is working to help update the local Chamber of Commerce's website with local businesses. He is also serving businesses directly by providing other internet services as well, including setting up their facebook, and making them searchable on Google Maps. By directly interacting with communities and their needs CST hopes to help improve the commerce and availability of businesses in the area.
In the area of brokering and collaboration CST is working in conjunction with the 4-Township area and the University's own faculty at the Data Services Center. CST worked closely with both student and faculty in creating a survey about the economic profile for the 4-Township area which exists just below the Boundary Waters in Northern Minnesota. After the release of the survey Engin Sungur, a Statistics Professor at the University of Minnesota, Morris, and also a key contact at the Data Services Center, will be working closely with CST to draw up both a statistical analysis as well as report on the findings.
Currently CST is engaged in creating and running a summit intended to convene rural leaders, the rural development industry, and artists all together at the University of Minnesota, Morris on June 5 and 6. The Rural Arts and Culture Summit is a joint venture between the Center for Small Towns and Springboard for the Arts and will engage rural minded individuals from throughout Minnesota and its surrounding states to stimulate new ideas for small towns to continue to not only survive, but thrive. The Summit has a specific focus on uniting rural economic developers with rural artists to create change that can work with and encompass every aspect of rural communities.
3) What neighborhoods/communities/counties/etc. is this project partnering with?
The Center for Small towns reaches a large and diverse number of communities throughout Minnesota, but also beyond state borders when engaging in projects like the Rural Arts and Culture Summit. The Center has reached communities extending up by the boundary waters, as well as communities practically on the Center's doorstep. The communities CST works with are many, and diverse. The only requirement for a community to work with the Center is that its population is at or below 5,000 residents.
4) What impact is this project having/expect to have?
The Center for Small Towns hopes to create a positive impact on both the Morris campus community as well as the overall well-being of rural communities throughout the state. By reaching out to as many communities as possible (in the Small Town Harvest for example) the Center hopes that it can continue to diversify and broaden its outreach to communities throughout the state. The Center for Small Towns also offers opportunities for University students to learn and explore their talents as well as work closely and develop a relationship with small towns. The impact of the Center for Small Towns extends beyond any individual project, but instead seeks to positively impact both the campus community members as well as the members of small towns.