A community garden? An indoor farmers market? A place to study late? Snapchat ads?
Grand Forks and University of North Dakota student leaders brainstormed on Wednesday, Nov. 20, ways to strengthen the relationship between the city and the university, where some staff and students hope to snare a top-10 designation by the International Town and Gown Association, an organization that works to help universities and the cities in which they reside navigate their relationship.
“Do you guys feel welcome and part of the community -- or not?” City Council President Dana Sande asked student senators at a joint Council and Senate meeting. Sande, the vice president of business development at the university’s aerospace foundation, is one of four Council members who work on campus. “We don’t know all the time what people that are 18 to 24 are looking for, so we really could use the help.”
UND Sen. Jessica DeVillers suggested a community garden or orchard, an idea she said she picked up at a recent “Longest Table” event.
Council member Katie Dachtler, a student records specialist at the university who’s also a UND student herself, said the school’s social work department broke ground on such a garden on Sunday. Dachtler also suggested more ongoing volunteer opportunities for students, rather than “one and done” events, so they feel like they’re a greater part of the broader Grand Forks community.
“There’s so many nonprofits in town that would welcome that kind of engagement from our students,” she said.
But what about those one-and-done events? What about the city’s downtown attractions?
Fargo’s Thunder Road Family Fun Park is usually packed with people, said UND Sen. Dawson Dutchak, and Grand Forks doesn’t have a comparable spot.
“What are ways to bring things that are experiences rather than just shopping or eating?” he asked.
The university’s student union was torn down this summer to make way for a replacement, and DeVillers said there was no place in town for students to study into the night. She suggested asking coffee shops to stay open later. Most, DeVillers explained, close by 8 p.m.
“And we’re up studying way later than that,” she said, adding that a lot of students would head downtown if they could study longer or more often there.
City Council member Bret Weber, an associate social work professor at UND, said city leaders hope to turn part of the Grand Forks Herald’s downtown building, which the city bought for $2.75 million last spring, into a coffee shop and extended-hours study spot.
And UND students tend to assume that “downtown” means “21-plus,” explained UND Sen. Aiden Halleen as other senators nodded, and events that aren’t often go unnoticed.
That underscored an apparently longstanding hurdle: How can the city keep students up-to-date about goings on that might interest them?
It’s a discussion that stretches back at least a decade. Senate and Council members at a similar joint meeting in 2009 wondered how the city could better “market” itself to university students. They considered emailing students about upcoming events and creating more links between one another’s websites.
On Wednesday, Student Body President Gracie Lian suggested Instagram and Snapchat advertisements or announcements. She also suggested that city leaders speak to student groups, such as fraternities or sororities.
Other senators suggested a map of student-friendly events, or better signage that explains downtown parking, or targeting residential halls with posters and other advertisements.
And, if or when there’s an event that interests them, how might students get there? City buses run until 10 p.m.
“Think people would ride it later than that on the weekends?” Weber said.
“If it’s marketed the right way,” Lian said.