Oct. 10, 2007
By Linda Lockhart, Karen Grabowski and Natalie Trusso | Photo by Jaime Chevillet
If you're one of the students chosen this year to work at Ohio University's George V. Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, your orientation was a moving target.
All new undergraduate students working with the school were required to take a daylong bus tour on Sept. 29 to experience first hand the types of projects they'll be assisting with and the people involved.
"The goal of the tour is to educate students about the region, since that's where the focus of our work is," said Robin Lindquist-Grantz, one of the tour coordinators. It also helps students to learn more about the work of the Voinovich School. "We cover so many areas and disciplines, it can be difficult for students to know or understand the breadth of our work," she said.
The Voinovich School connects students, alumni, faculty and a variety of partners in developing solutions to challenges that face the region and the state. The school provides services -- such as research, staff training, statistics organization, program evaluation and meeting facilitation -- to help such initiatives succeed.
Involving students in the process is a big part of the school's mission, Lindquist-Grantz said. "It helps students to see how what they are doing in the classroom or research transfers to local agencies," she said.
The tour was initiated five years ago as a way for business students to become more familiar with the region. The initial event was so successful, it was expanded to include all new students in following years.
"I was expecting to see the project sites, but the tour surpassed my expectations," said Emily Bacha, a sophomore environmental geography student from Cleveland. "The day was a dialogue between the clients we visited, the leaders of the tour and the students on the tour.
"I learned a lot about the Voinovich School and the relationship with community groups throughout Southeast Ohio," she added. "It was nice to see how those connect."
Staff members and students work in mentor/mentee relationships on specific projects, so the students on the tour were witnessing projects to which former students had contributed. This year's tour stopped at selected sites where Voinovich School projects have made an impact.
The first two stops were the Athens Alternative Education Program, where Project SUCCESS helps children cope with alcohol and drug use, and the Appalachian Works Education and Training Program. The Voinovich School was instrumental in the evaluation of Project SUCCESS outcomes, and it is providing data management and other technical assistance to Appalachian Works.
The tour also featured feedback from small-business owners who received Voinovich School's business consulting services, including two in Nelsonville's up and coming arts district.
Susan Holmes, who founded the Nelsonville Quilt Co., explained how the Voinovich School helped her identify a market need that has led to a thriving business. Margo Marazon, who started Maggie's Gelato, talked about the consulting that allowed her to make a go of her shop.
"I thought it was great they got started through the Voinovich School and that the projects helped individual small businesses," said Devon Deaton, a graduate student in counseling.
Bacha was impressed by the level of personal contact at the project sites. Although she has been active in community and student groups in Athens, she hasn't had a chance to meet many people in the region. "To interact with the heart and soul of the region," she said, "that's different for me."
Other projects sites included Hocking Hills Roasters outside Logan, where the owner discussed how helpful the Voinovich School work had been in developing his marketing plan. Students also spoke with Bob Boyles of State Forest Operations and Fire Control about training he received through Voinovich School's Ohio Certified Public Manager Program, which helped him and others apply what they learned to restoring historic fire towers in Southeast Ohio.
As the tour wound into the afternoon, a presentation on the region's history and the endurance of its people provided a segue to the final stop, where students witnessed the effects of coal mining.
At the Essex Mine, Mike Steinmaus, coordinator for the Monday Creek Restoration Project, explained how Monday Creek is one of many Southeast Ohio streams that are part of watershed restoration projects to reverse acid mine drainage from abandoned coal mines. Among other work, Voinovich teams have helped watershed groups learn to monitor streams and created a database to analyze results.
"Above all, the tour drove home that the regional culture is different (from others)," said Daniel Hoy, a senior physics major from Findlay, Ohio. "That is a really good motivation to do what I can to support local culture so it can remain."
Hoy, who now understands the Voinovich School work better after seeing it in action, also thought the trip had broader value. "Everyone at one time or another should do this while they are in Athens."