A collaboration between Main Street Russellville and the Arkansas Tech University Center for Community Engagement and Academic Outreach during the fall 2019 semester allowed eight ATU students to investigate ways in which their peers might become more aware of and involved in Russellville Downtown.
Senior Haylee Applegate of Jacksonville, junior Kara Dickens of Cedarville, senior Michael Jones of Cabot, junior Jacob Loomis of Bryant, senior Victoria Marchant of Russellville, senior Lorrel Passmore of Greenwood, freshman Grace Phillips of Salem and junior Kaitlyn Rankin of Perryville participated in the Interdisciplinary Project-Based Learning (IPBL) class.
Danielle Housenick, executive director of Main Street Russellville, served as their instructor.
By utilizing the Main Street America four-point approach of design, organization, promotion and economic vitality, the members of the class evaluated potential infrastructure improvements and activities in Russellville Downtown that might be feasible and attractive to ATU students.
“It awakened a child-like creativity,” said Marchant when asked about the class. “We don’t have room for that in many of our classes. It’s a lot of homework and tests. Things are normally straightforward. Having the opportunity to approach something so open-ended with endless possibilities was unique and something that I cherished.”
Suggestions brought forth by the class included a park area in one of Russellville Downtown’s vacant alleys and more live music at Depot Park during the academic year. Their suggestions were based upon data gathered through focus groups consisting of ATU students.
While implementation of the ideas would require more planning and resources, the class had an immediate impact on its participants.
Dickens plans to pursue an internship with Main Street Russellville to learn more about economic development and partnership building as components of her future career planning.
Loomis said the class heightened his interest in city planning. He has started looking for graduate schools that will allow him to study that topic.
“Working creatively as a team was definitely an interesting aspect of the class,” said Jones. “Being able to bounce ideas off one another and receiving feedback was important. Working together, creatively, to solve this problem was enlightening.”
Marchant pointed out that the variety of students in the class made that creativity possible. Of the eight participants, there were four political science majors, one psychology major, one fisheries and wildlife science major, one cultural and geospatial studies major and one criminal justice major.
“It’s such a unique experience to get to work with students outside your discipline,” said Marchant. “It crushes creativity when you are with people who are like-minded. Being around people who have such different points of view and different opinions was a really cool experience.”
Dr. Julie Mikles-Schluterman, professor of sociology, serves as director of the ATU Center for Community Engagement and Academic Outreach.
Organizations that would like to engage with ATU students on community enrichment projects may call (479) 498-6050 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Learn more about the ATU Center for Community Engagement and Academic Outreach at www.atu.edu/ipbl.
Learn more about Main Street Russellville at www.mainstreetrussellville.com.