Town-gown relations vital to community engagement

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Williamsburg’s 100th Business Roundtable Luncheon featured College of William and Mary President Taylor Reveley reflecting on his 10 years as president of the College. Concluding the meeting, Economic Development Authority Vice-Chair Rick Overy ’88 opined that town-gown relations had never been better.

Williamsburg’s town-gown relationship refers to the interactions between the College and the residents of the City of Williamsburg. The town-gown relationship has experienced highs and lows throughout the College’s rich history. Certainly, with the College’s founding president James Blair serving on the Governor’s Council as well as being rector of Bruton Parish Church, agreements were easy to reach! In previous talks, Reveley has reflected (with a hint of jealousy) on how nice it would be to earn multiple salaries, both from the College and from Bruton Parish Church.

To understand what community relations were like when Chancellor Robert Gates ’65 was a student, I reached out to Dan Landis ’63. He had convinced Gates to leave Kansas and enroll at the College. Landis relayed that the opportunity for involvement in the community then created a special experience for students at the College. Gates’s community involvement included singing in the choir at St. Stephen Lutheran Church, driving school buses, babysitting and providing leadership for Scout Troop 103. This leadership experience served Gates well during his career as well as during his volunteer term as president of the Boy Scouts of America. Today, many factors are essential for fostering strong town-gown relations. Our community leaders deserve credit for creating processes and communication channels to accomplish this. City of Williamsburg staff and elected officials actively participate in New Student Orientation and organize the Great Williamsburg Adventure Race to welcome students to town. Since the majority of City Council members are graduates of the College, this collaboration is expected. Strong town-gown relations are reinforced during monthly Neighborhood Council meetings, when College administrators and student leaders provide updates to neighborhood representatives.

Another successful group is the Neighborhood Relations Committee, which provides a forum for communication and problem-solving among representatives from the College (administration and students), the City, landlords and neighborhoods. According to its website, this committee’s goal is to “improve the quality of life in the neighborhoods; and to build and maintain effective working relationships across the board.”

A major benefit of living and learning in Williamsburg is the numerous opportunities for community engagement and leadership. Tribe basketball demonstrates both. The energy evident on the court and in the stands at Kaplan Arena during the final league games was substantial. Supplementing strong alumni attendance was the presence of many community members who adopt the College as their school, especially during basketball season! Tribe athletes also give back to the community.

“The basketball team took a half day at Matthew Whaley Elementary School last year,” Paul Rowley ’17, J.D. ’20 said.  I think the kids really valued the experience — hearing the importance of reading from college athletes really seemed to strike a note with them, that if we think it’s cool they can think it’s cool as well.”

Child Development Resources relies on Tribe soccer players to assist with its fundraisers. At CDR’s March 18 Bid ‘n Buy Auction, these students managed everything from setup to breakdown of tables. They staffed registration tables and even produced ad lib theater during the live auction. Tribe cheerleaders helped get the crowd fired up. CDR Executive Director Paul Scott ’88 hopes the soccer players also benefit by volunteering.

“By learning more about CDR’s work and the children we serve, they learn the importance of early intervention and early childhood education, and the support we receive will impress upon them what a great community we have here,” Scott said. We applaud the players and their head coach Chris Norris for making community involvement a priority and thank them again for all of their hard work.”

The College’s “culture of serving” is evident within the 100+ nonprofits that benefit from student participation. According to Assistant Vice President for Student Engagement and Leadership Andrew Stelljes, a survey of undergraduates at the College showed that 70 percent of respondents were engaged in some form of community service. He estimates that volunteers from the College donate more than 257,000 hours of their time annually.

Pre-med student Sam Dyer ’20 explained that 10 students serve the Williamsburg Volunteer Fire Department.

“I became a volunteer at WVFD to help the people of Williamsburg when they need it most,” Dyer said. “I’ve learned a lot about taking initiative on an EMS scene. We are often the first responders at an emergency so it’s up to us to determine if the scene is safe and what kind of equipment we will need before responding to the emergency.”

Demonstrating teamwork and propensity to lead is an important factor when employers and universities evaluate applicants. I also reached out to Director of MBA Admissions at the Raymond A. Mason School of Business Amanda Barth. Barth explained what skills business school admissions value in applicants.

“MBA admissions will evaluate certain soft skills as indicators of leadership potential for graduate study and beyond,” Barth said. “Those competencies include: communication, initiative and motivation — to name a few. All talented leaders require these proficiencies to help them positively influence and manage employees or team members. Examples of demonstrated leadership might be volunteering to be a team lead at work, sharing an example of how one communicated successfully to work through a complex problem or how a professional motivates those around them to get the job done. Professionals need real-world opportunities to develop and practice leadership skills. Community engagement and volunteerism are wonderful activities to help build exceptional leadership.”

Ted Maslin MBA ’80 served as a volunteer firefighter while a student at the College. Email Ted Maslin at efmaslin@gmail.com.