In many communities, colleges and universities walk a fine line between “town and gown.” While cities are proud to be home to educational institutions, the difference in demographics between those on and off campus are often considerable. Conflicts can arise based on differences in socioeconomic status, educational opportunity, race and ethnicity, political viewpoints and immigration status, particularly in cities.
The challenge for campus administrators is finding a way to bridge the differences; the opportunity is to enrich the student experience. In the latest addition to Sodexo’s President to President series, “Bridging the Town-Gown Divide,” Joanne Berger-Sweeney, Ph.D., president of Trinity College in Hartford, CT, posits that communities can benefit from the presence of colleges and universities while providing students with real-world learning experiences that will prepare them for life after college and instill in them the responsibility to be active, informed citizens.
The dichotomy between campuses and today’s students is an issue that is being addressed in creative ways. Trinity College is a liberal arts campus with a real-world connection. They welcome first-generation and non-traditional students from area communities and beyond, offering pre-orientation programs to help students acclimate to college life even as many balance work and family obligations.
Local students without a family history of college attendance often feel like the proverbial fish out of water, uncomfortable in the extreme even if they live in the community.
“It goes to the question of belonging,” said Jennifer Baszile, Trinity College’s dean of student success and career development. “Rather than just casting these students into the deep water of college and expecting them to just figure it out, we are equipping them with tools based on research, so they don’t start to ask themselves the quote/unquote wrong questions. Do I belong here? Did they make a mistake when they selected me?” This strategy features a mentoring program in which established students mentor first-generation newcomers, demonstrating that, while challenging, it is indeed possible to survive and thrive.
Other colleges, including long-established, prestigious names like Smith College, Brown University, Bennington University and Bard College, as well as some with highly specialized curriculums, take an equally bold approach to support non-traditional students, helping them adjust to campus life. Many provide non-traditional grading, location variety, major course of study options, practical work experience, online courses and even the ability to tailor their studies to their learning preferences, all geared to helping students succeed and excel.
These students also see their colleges’ and universities’ commitment to their communities. Trinity College, for example, is deeply involved in Hartford. Recent investments include the development of the Learning Corridor; the Trinfo.Café, which provides computer literacy training; a community garden; other services to surrounding neighborhoods; and much more.
College and university partners like Sodexo also have a supporting role in our clients’ community activity. Sodexo’s top priority after preventing food waste is to feed the hungry. As part of Sodexo’s Corporate Responsibility commitments, our Stop Hunger program encourages all of our partner campuses to divert surplus food from landfills by donating it to local charities to help feed those most in need through our Surplus Food Recovery Program.
Each June, Sodexo celebrates student heroes who devote time and energy to helping their communities by working to Stop Hunger. In 2018, New York University student Kelsea Suarez, age 22, New York, NY, was honored for her extraordinary efforts. In 2014, Kelsea and two fellow students co-founded Transfernation after witnessing the significant amount of food thrown away every day on campus, while nearly 1.3 million people go hungry in New York City. She and her team organized 210 volunteers to pick up food from the University’s cafeterias and nearby businesses and drop it off to local soup kitchens from the Lower East Side all the way to Harlem. Since 2014, Transfernation has donated 220,000 pounds of rescued food, the equivalent of approximately 183,333 meals, to 10 soup kitchens in Manhattan and partnered with more than 60 corporations to donate rescued food to those in need. Now that’s making a difference in Quality of Life! Kelsea and four other Stephen J. Brady Scholars each received a $5,000 grant and $5,000 scholarship at the Stop Hunger Foundation Dinner in Washington, DC.
Since its founding, Sodexo has worked to contribute to the economic and social development of the communities, regions and countries where it operates. We are committed to making a positive impact on Quality of Life for people in local communities through our business activities and supporting our clients and the students we serve – the leaders of tomorrow.
Jim Jenkins is CEO of Universities East for Sodexo North America where he oversees more than 400 college and university partnerships. With $9.3 billion in annual revenues in the U.S. and Canada, Sodexo’s 133,000 employees provide more than 100 unique services that increase performance at 9,000 client sites and improve Quality of Life for 15 million consumers every day.