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Can Powell be a better ‘college town?’

NWC President Stefani Hicswa (left) looks on as Powell Ecomomic Partnership Executive Director Christine Bekes welcomes residents to a Connect to Community meeting at The Commons Feb. 1. The meeting explored ways Northwest College and the community of Powell could improve interaction. NWC President Stefani Hicswa (left) looks on as Powell Ecomomic Partnership Executive Director Christine Bekes welcomes residents to a Connect to Community meeting at The Commons Feb. 1. The meeting explored ways Northwest College and the community of Powell could improve interaction. Tribune photo by Don Cogger

Business, NWC leaders mull how to strengthen relationship between students and community

With 400 employees and close to 2,000 students, Northwest College figures prominently in Powell’s economic landscape.

But students and local businesses agree that interaction between NWC and the community always has room for improvement.

About 30 community stakeholders and other interested parties braved yet another snowstorm Feb. 1 to attend a Connect to Community meeting at The Commons, hosted by Powell Economic Partnership (PEP).

The purpose of the meeting was to explore ways Northwest College can improve its social and business interaction with the community, as well as strengthening Powell’s image as a “college town.”

“There’s been a lot of conversation about, when you come to Powell, do you even know there’s a college in town?” PEP Executive Director Christine Bekes asked those in attendance. “You enter from the west side; you can’t really see there is a college until you hit the little green sign that says, ‘Northwest College to the left’ on Division Street. We don’t have that energy that a typical college town might have ... how can we strengthen the bridge for businesses and the community?”

NWC President Stefani Hicswa presented the results of a survey of 240 students conducted on campus, outlining their likes and dislikes about the community of Powell. She then invited feedback from attendees at the meeting in the form of a survey mirroring the one given students.

Questions covered a variety of topics, including the amount of time and money students spent patronizing local shopping and eating establishments, what they like best about living in Powell, whether would they take advantage of internships if they were available, and what they think is missing from the community.

“I thought students were very open with their responses,” Hicswa told the audience. “It really gave us a great starting point on things we need to address.”

Questions asked of stakeholders inquired about the frequency of attendance at NWC events and competitions, whether they would welcome student interns and if they find students to be an asset to the community.

A major takeaway from both surveys was that a disconnect between the community and the college exists, and the relationship needs to be improved. Better utilization of social media, improved marketing from both the college and local businesses about what each has to offer the other, and online job listings geared toward students were all offered as potential remedies.

Increased signage at the city limits and around town heralding Powell as the home of NWC was also discussed.

In the end, it was agreed that Northwest College and the community need to meet each other halfway. Survey results indicated that local businesses want college students as customers and enjoy having them as part of the community.

As for students, they enjoy patronizing local establishments, have a positive perception of Powell and would like to see more of a variety of activities available to them, according to the survey.

Bekes and Hicswa called the meeting a success, with plans to take information gleaned from it and turn it into action.

“I think both the college and community want to connect,” Bekes said. “We just need to figure out how to.” 

With families and community members involved in different levels of activities and ever-changing technologies, everyone has a different way of connecting, Bekes said. The goal now is to get everyone on the same page, to make information and events easier to find and disseminate.

“Today was a bigger dialogue, because we are ready for some action,” she explained. “There are some things out there that are clearly a priority and need to get done. Again, the college can’t do it all, PEP can’t do it all, but we as a whole can get it done.”

Hicswa agreed, saying the ideas and information shared will be beneficial moving forward.

“The information we received is invaluable,” Hicswa said. “It starts the conversation. You get this synchronicity, and there’s no limit to what the possibilities are. It’s really exciting to see this piece of the PEP Strategic Plan coming together.”

Hicswa was also encouraged by the overall positivity of those who participated in both surveys.

“We didn’t sit around and complain about what we wish there was,” she said. “It was very positive and focused on the future, and really very proactive.”

For NWC’s part, Hicswa said the college will now analyze the data with PEP and come up with a starting point. The idea of a central location where people can find information and updates was seen as especially promising.

“It’s just a matter of who is going to do what, sorting that out from the notes and the data,” Hicswa said. “There are some really simple things we can jump on right away. There is real potential here, and it’s untapped.”

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