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At MCC downtown, Meghan Conn and Lauren Smith hope to become familiar faces to the downtown community. Photo by Rebecca Fishow.




Storefronts over billboards
Community colleges open up downtown locales

04/03/14
By Rebecca Fishow rfishow@hippopress.com



 When Susan Huard, Manchester Community College president, talked with her staff about raising the college’s profile, they considered advertising with the billboards on Interstate 293.

But they looked into costs, and Huard discovered it wouldn’t be much different than opening up a new location in downtown Manchester — that’s good for advertising, and then some. 
“It just evolved to, rather than a billboard, let’s think in terms of having a presence,” Huard said. 
MCC’s new downtown location — a shiny storefront across the street from City Hall — officially opened last month. It offers information about the college, in-person enrollment aid and new-student acceptance assessments for English and math. 
It has already provided easy access to prospective students. In the past two weeks, a few passersby have come in to apply for classes — people who had been on the fence about going back to school, or stalled by the two bus rides it takes to get to MCCs Front Street location. Information sessions are held from  4 to 5 p.m. every weekday. 
“It’s a big step for some folks to think about college,” Huard said. “Either they haven’t seen themselves as college students or they think it’s going to be like high school, so this is a way to make them feel more comfortable.”
Some people who come in aren’t necessarily looking specifically at MCC but are curious about college opportunities in general. 
“We’ve had a couple people say, ‘Well we saw you are a school, and I’ve been thinking about school in general. Even that, we think being a resource to the Manchester area, we catch people just as they’re thinking about it, as they’re walking around,” said Megan Conn, MCC downtown counselor. 
Huard sees the downtown location as serving three major purposes: recruitment and marketing, partnerships with businesses and agencies downtown, and exploration of what the college is not doing in the community but could. They’ve had conversations with the military and City Year, a nonprofit that helps high-poverty students stay in school. Eventually, administrators want to offer the site’s conference room to businesses for meetings and consortiums. 
 
Following in NEC’s footsteps
MCC’s ambitions are similar to what New England College in Henniker has put into action. The private college opened its first off-campus site on North Main Street in Concord last year. 
In addition to recruitment opportunities, NEC Concord is a learning space. There are two new, upgraded classrooms for business, public policy, health, and human services graduate students, and it has become an annex for civic engagements and internship opportunities. 
NEC has developed symbiotic relationships with local businesses and not-for-profits, including Granite United Way and the YMCA. Interns at Granite United Way, for example, get hands-on experience. They help out with the nonprofit’s two cycles of grant giving. 
“In the fall, the students help to generate applications and visit some of the sites to get more information. If they intern in the spring  the student could review the applications with staff and sit in on meetings,” said director and psychology professor Larry Taylor. 
Ivan Delic, a senior psychology and business administration double major, has been helping to facilitate NEC-Concord connections. He visited Concord businesses to find out if they could benefit from interns. “We [found] that we had many more needs for internships and work-study jobs from the Concord community than students from NEC who were willing to take them. That was a bit disappointing, because in my mind it should be exactly vice versa,” Delic said. 
This semester, Delic’s main concern is getting business leaders to come to NEC classes to share information about different business topics and try to connect students to them. 
“We are moving forward, maybe not at the pace I would like to, but I am well-known for being impatient,” Delic said. 
Getting the site up and running has been challenging, Taylor said. The $50,000 building renovations took longer than expected. It was easier for MCC, which cost less than $20,000 to open. 
Early on, it was difficult for NEC to publicize events and get people to come out, especially in the coldest parts of winter. 
“We had some events that virtually nobody came to, and others that have been full,” he said. “So one change we are making is whoever’s putting on the event, we’re going to have to have them help us to publicize it and get the turnout.”
Up to three days a week, NEC hosts events in Concord that are open to the public and  range from poetry slams and theater rehearsals to psychology talks and tax return presentations. One of NEC’s most successful community events was a TEDxManhattan viewing party called “Changing the Way We Eat.”  Fifty people came to watch a live webcast from Times Center in New York City. During breaks from the webcast, local speakers discussed organic farming and nutrition. 
Another benefit for the graduate students is the possibility of trading in textbook learning for real-life studies. Currently, many business and marketing classes learn from case studies like “How did Coca-Cola create the new Coke Zero?” Instead, students will be able to turn local businesses into case studies. 
“They can study the Eagle Square Deli or True Brew Roasts — companies in Concord — and ask them how they do marketing, ask the owners and proprietors, and maybe help them come up with a new marketing plan,” Taylor said. 
MMC doesn’t use their new space for classes or student internships yet, but it could be on the way. 
“This is an experiment for us,” Huard said. “but we signed up to be here for a few years, so we’ll see where it takes us.” 
 
As seen in the April 3, 2014 issue of The Hippo.





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