Two years ago, Angela Determan didn’t know much about the community across the street from her school.
The then-graduate student started volunteering with the Cedar-Humphrey Action for Neighborhood Collaborative Engagement — a class offered in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs — to get her feet wet in the neighborhood.
After volunteering for a year, Determan enrolled in the course last year and has since graduated. But she said the hands-on approach to neighborhood development continues to impact students, residents and community members.
As part of the course, 11 students will present their research to residents next week. Residents and community members will then vote on which proposals they’d like brought out into the neighborhood.
Since 2007, the year-long capstone community-based research course offered through the Humphrey School lends students opportunities in neighborhood planning each year. Before that, the University of Minnesota had virtually no ties to Cedar-Riverside, said Osman Ahmed, president of the West Bank Community Coalition’s board of directors.
But CHANCE and similar programs are helping those ties grow. The gap between the neighborhood and the students who live and study there is shrinking, he said.
Students start work on their projects outside the classroom after the votes are tallied, working with organizations including the WBCC, the West Bank Business Association and the Cedar-Riverside Neighborhood Revitalization Program throughout the year.
Ahmed, who moved to Minnesota in 1996 and lives in Riverside Plaza, said the class is one of the few offered through the University that’s connected to the neighborhood.
“The University of Minnesota is now trying to reach the community — that’s something we’ve hoped for,” he said. “But it’s been a difficult journey for [the WBCC].”
The student-led program addresses barriers between the two groups, said CHANCE community partnership coordinator Merrie Benasutti.
CHANCE student Nahila Ahsan said the area is “the perfect urban planning lab.”
Ahsan is part of a team working on a strategic planning proposal to help restore the neighborhood’s Bluff Street Park — located between Northern Pacific Bridge No. 9 and the 10th Avenue Bridge. Although the proposal might not be picked up by the community, she hopes to continue her involvement with the neighborhood’s project taskforce.
Small numbers, big projects
While the course has seen success through its projects, enrollment remains limited. About 12-15 students typically register each fall.
But small numbers don’t mean small projects.
As a result of four former CHANCE students’ work, the Somali Justice Advocacy Center launched a database in May, which collects statistics and information about the community’s population and places it in one location.
The neighborhood has historically been one of the hardest areas to count in Minnesota, Benasutti said.
Cedar-Riverside has been undercounted over the past two decades as immigrant populations moved in. Some ethnic and racial groups — like Somali — aren’t listed in compiled U.S. census data.
More than 15 projects have stretched into the community over the years.
Another spring project looked at the potential for a neighborhood Youth Development Center — where young people can build leadership skills to apply within the community.
Ahmed said there is a need for more projects that consider the area’s newly immigrant populations, and he hopes some of the proposals reflect that.
Determan teamed up with two other students on the “Intern Link” project — connecting graduate students with local businesses. The project, which uses students as resources for business marketing and consulting, was picked up by the West Bank Business Association.
The organization hired a graduate intern this month after considering research conducted by the students.
The University has pushed for more communication with neighborhoods in the past few years, said Jeff Corn, community programs assistant at the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs. But many of the efforts are the result of graduate research.
While CURA typically has 60 to 80 research projects per year, only about 12 are conducted by undergraduates.
Determan said the research-based efforts help students reach real people with real problems.
“There’s not an invisible fence between the neighborhoods and the University … We need to engage in a respectful manner,” Determan said.
UMN students have traveled to Florida colleges to collaborate with students on various projects.
When UMN students plan for a vacation, having trip cancellation travel insurance is a worthwhile commodity to check out.
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