University Improvement Day lacks participation

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

Kalika Valentine-Erikson

Some used it as a day to sleep in and catch up on homework, and others simply reveled in the fact that it was a day off of classes, but University Improvement Day was meant to be so much more.

Initially created as a day for students to actively and visibly volunteer and strengthen the positive view of college students by the community, University Improvement Day, which occurred on Tuesday, Oct. 13, has turned away from its purpose.

Mass communications professor Tom Grier called the relationship between the university and the community a “town and gown relationship,” with the town being Winona, and the gowns being students at Winona State University.

“I think we have a pretty good relationship between Winona and the university,” Grier said.

The day was also meant for staff members to plan future endeavors and improve at their jobs.

Several years ago Vicki Englich, director of community engagement for Winona State, arranged volunteer opportunities for students on University Improvement Day. After she retired, nobody was hired to take her place. Students were left to find their own volunteer opportunities on their day off, but most did not and still do not.

“The first few years, there was an active purpose,” Grier said. “[But by the third year], almost nothing happened in the community.”

Grier had positive opinions about the intent of University Improvement Day.

“I think it’s a great idea for a day. I just wish we were doing something,” he said.

Grier said he has asked his classes what they are doing for University Improvement Day.

“For three or four years in a row, I’ve asked that question in my class. No one is doing anything,” he said.

Some departments are beginning to utilize the day to develop improvement.

“[Mass Comm] used it wisely this year, but that has not been the case for the past few years” Grier said, “I did hear, this year, of several other departments having meetings and talking about the future and planning.”

Junior Andrea Mohr said she did not take advantage of the day off, because she was not properly informed about its purpose.

“Honestly, I just slept in. I slightly knew what the day was for, but it’s not something that anybody ever talks about or encourages,” Mohr said.

When asked if she would volunteer if the opportunity was arranged, Mohr said she would.

“Absolutely. I would love to volunteer, but I didn’t even really know what the day was all about,” Mohr said.

Grier said students are helping greatly in volunteer work throughout the year.

“They volunteer thousands, if not tens of thousands of hours,” he said.

While he acknowledged that students do their part when it comes to volunteering, he would like the university to take a more active role in encouraging this volunteering on University Improvement Day.

“I would really like to see us do more as a university,” he said, “Someone should be in charge of that.”

Junior Rene Stiller, a Resident Assistant (RA) in Sheehan Hall, used the evening of University Improvement Day to better herself and the university. She attended an interactive play called “When…” that focused on gender-based violence.

“It was really interactive, which is the best way to learn about active interventions. Many actors were trained campus advocates, so it was interesting to see them act out real scenarios we’ve all observed happen and watch them find the best way to resolve it,” she said.

Early in the day, there was PACTivist training, focusing on helping victims of gender-based violence that many RAs had to attend. Stiller attended last year, so she did not need to go again, but she mentioned that many of her RA friends attended the training.

Like Mohr, Grier believes that if the university was more active in encouraging volunteering on this day and organizing volunteer opportunities, students would be much more likely to participate.

“I think students would participate if someone would organize it, and that’s what it takes — someone to organize it,” Grier said.

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