Four groups of University of Arkansas – Fort Smith students presented projects and initiatives to Fort Smith community leaders gathered on the UAFS campus May 9, projects unified by a common theme: improving the Fort Smith community.
The presentations, held in the Latture Conference Center, ranged from preventing youth suicide to improving the city’s sidewalks, while other groups focused on enhancing the city’s downtown area to compel student retention in Fort Smith following graduation.
One group proposed a transportation system to shuttle students from campus to downtown Fort Smith, the first step in a larger integration effort that would include student housing, a student union and a culinary school, ultimately focusing on retaining students by creating a closer bond with the community.
“By giving students the best possible experience in the city while they are attending school, they stand more likely to remain in the area upon completing graduation,” student Robert Miller said. “With more college graduates remaining in the area, more skill remains, and more professional positions will come as a result in the form of business investment.”
A second group also focused on making downtown Fort Smith more attractive to students through the creation of a food truck lot. The group’s project report pointed to the $650 million annual revenue of the mobile food vending industry and the projected quadrupled growth of the industry in the next five years as proof of the economic impact the lot would bring to the downtown area.
“Our main goal is to try to retain UAFS students, so to do that we wanted to grow the Fort Smith economy and make it a popular place for a corporation to come in and say, ‘I want to be downtown,’” student Zak Maestri said.
The third group suggested improvements to the city’s sidewalk program, including additional planning of new sidewalk construction, publicity of sidewalk improvements and a simpler, less confusing method of collecting citizen feedback. Students pointed to four areas – Towson Avenue, Highway 271, Rogers Avenue and Free Ferry Road – as streets in need of new or improved sidewalks, as well as focusing on low-income areas.
The goal, student Remington Pate said, was to create a more walkable community.
“Around our public library and parks, you see crumbled sidewalks or people walking through the grass,” Pate said. “Obviously, you don’t want anyone breaking their ankles, or there’s no sidewalks and they’re walking on the edge of the street trying not to get hit. We don’t want to see that in Fort Smith.”
A youth suicide prevention mentorship program, titled Lions Against Youth Suicide, was the product of the fourth group’s work in the class. With suicide being the second-leading cause of death in 2014 among Arkansans ages 10-24, along with Fort Smith’s geographical area having one of the highest suicide rates in the state, the group saw an opportunity to help by enrolling UAFS student volunteers to mentor at-risk youth.
Student Andrea Wolfe said 40 students have already volunteered to be mentors for the program, many of them with personal experience with mental health issues, and that they plan to fund the project through university funds as well as various fundraising initiatives.
The students completed the projects as part of a senior-level management course co-instructed by Rusty Myers and Fred Williams, executives-in-residence for the College of Business. Prior to the presentations, Myers described the unique format of the course: on the first day of class, they tell students there are “no textbooks, no tests and no lectures. We don’t take attendance, but there are expectations.”
“Those expectations are that students make a difference in an area they are passionate about and want to do something about,” Myers said. “It’s not an academic exercise – they’re expected to actually make a difference.”
Students participating in the class were:
Alma: Andrea Wolfe.
Clarksville: Savanah Fisher.
Fayetteville: Eden Taylor.
Fort Smith: Carrie Abarca, Aaron Davis, Philip Dyer, James Ferguson, Kayla Ocasio Jackson, Weston Jones, Zak Maestri, William Niko and Nathan Poston.
Greenwood: Alyssa Dobbins, Ryan Farmer and Remington Pate.
Lavaca: Tyler Teague.
Milwaukee, Wis.: Robert Miller.
Oklahoma City, Okla.: Kathryne Ethen.
Sachse, Texas: Candace Followell.
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