Everyone always talks about what communities do for universities but not what the universities do for communities.
Winona is no stranger to that. It is a thriving community with plenty of support for the three colleges and universities in the area.
At Winona State University there are at least 180 cubs and student organizations on campus. These range from sports clubs, Greek life, academic clubs, honorary societies, faith-based clubs and diversity organizations.
For most of these clubs and organizations, community service and philanthropy work is a significant part of how those clubs run.
The president of the university, Scott Olson, said, “First and foremost, community engagement is a great way for students to learn. It allows us to put theory into practice and allows students to try out different settings and professions to see how they might dedicate their lives.”
One subset of campus organizations where community service is an important aspect to is Greek life.
Lindsay Marosi-Kramer, an activities director on campus, said, “Our seven organizations all have both national and local philanthropies, many groups require students to host volunteer hours while not many have actual relationships with outside places like Greek groups do.”
According to Marosi-Kramer, during the 2018-2019 school year, the Greek community volunteered more than 800 hours in community services.
Some community members have opposing opinions when it comes to living in a town with three colleges.
A Winona man who lives nine blocks east of campus, who wished to remain anonymous, said he didn’t appreciate having college students as neighbors.
He has lived in Winona his whole life and only left when he went to college.
“It’s not that I hate college students,” the man said. “I just don’t like living with around them.”
He brought up how high school and college students would leave garbage on his lawn or how loud college student neighbors are.
He said it was extremely difficult to find housing since “20 percent of each block” was rented to students or would only be rented to students.
“I do appreciate there are students and groups who will go around and clean up the garbage, especially after big events,” he said.
Kendra Weber, WSU’s director of Student and Community Engagement, arranged the clean and sweep after homecoming.
“If we know a certain amount of this is going to happen, what can we do?” Weber said.
The first year she held this event, around 30 people showed up and they ended with around 40 bags of garbage.
In 2018, the event had about 90 people sign up to pick up trash and more than 100 participants showed up.
An event like this has both community and university involvement. Weber directs the event and buys pizza for students who volunteer. The American Legion has allowed the group to use their space for free and the city allocates certain stop signs for the group to set the bags of garbage.
Olson has had community members reach out to him regarding students.
“Most of the comments I get from members of the community are very complimentary to WSU students, Olson said. “Probably the largest volume of negative comments I hear are about students walking across Main or Huff without looking up at the traffic, but I only hear this a dozen times a year or less. There are often concerns around Homecoming, but lately students have really been careful to be safe and respectful while having fun.”
In 2013, the university applied to get the Community Engagement Classification from the Carnegie Foundation for the advancement of teaching.
To be considered for this classification, the university had to have proof of engagement and co-existing with the community.
In 2015, Winona State University was awarded the Community Engagement Classification.