An engaged summer for students

A sketch of an intersection in Dinkytown

Even though students were away from campus this summer, a new initiative kept them connected with their campus and greater communities.

Nearly 300 University of Minnesota students logged more than 1,000 volunteer hours through the Office for Public Engagement’s pilot Summer of EngageMNt remote service initiative. The hundreds of service opportunities ranged from helping with social media, web development, and fund-raising efforts for local nonprofits to web-based research for University-community research and outreach projects. 

Early in the summer, students were matched to projects according to their interests. They were able to volunteer for a few hours or choose a longer-term project, based on their schedule, and some experiences were tied to courses for academic credit. 

One project that attracted strong student and community interest was the University of Minnesota/ Marcy Holmes Neighborhood Association and Dinkytown Business Association Covid-19 Business Outreach and Research Project. 

Student volunteers researched COVID-19-related small business assistance information from public/government agencies, then provided recommendations to local shop owners on how best to promote their business during the pandemic. The students’ final product—a detailed resource packet—was circulated to business leaders earlier in August. 

For Zoey Sai, her volunteer time of 5-10 hours per week on that project was tied to her Urban Spatial and Social Dynamics course in the Humphrey School. That course touches on urban resilience and the interaction between individuals, communities, and institutions, she says. “Finding ways for local business owners to recover from the pandemic requires attention and cooperation among multiple parties,” she adds. “It helps me understand business districts and civic engagement in a domestic context.”

In addition to project guidance, service assignments included weekly skill-building sessions and guided reflection led by staff members from the Office for Public Engagement and the Center for Community-Engaged Learning. Some participating students are planning to continue their remote activities during this school year through the Center for Community-Engaged Learning’s Community Engagement Scholars Program.