Survey Shows Increase in Students’ Downtown Engagement
The Office of Community Relations has proven that knowing means going, downtown, that is. The University’s Downtown Engagement Initiative, comprised of events designed to familiarize students with shopping and dining venues, including a Downtown Scavenger Hunt and Downtown Nite, as well as discounts for students and special promotions, has led to a marked increase in student awareness and patronage of the myriad businesses just steps from the campus.
Findings from a recent student survey conducted by the Office of Community Relations were presented May 2 at a meeting on campus, attended by downtown business owners, as well as representatives of city, county, and state government offices. The Downtown Engagement Initiative, an effort made possible through partnerships with Scranton Tomorrow and the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce, was shown to have increased students’ familiarity with downtown businesses. Since the last survey was conducted in 2011, more students are going to downtown to retail shops, restaurants and entertainment activities. The initiative has been particularly successful in increasing awareness among students of major community events such as First Friday. Awareness of that event has increased 39% among freshmen since 2011. More importantly, 39% of freshmen from 2014 patronized First Friday, versus 22% of their 2011 counterparts, a 17% increase.
According to Julie Schumacher Cohen, Director of Community and Government Relations, these large increases, together with consistent across-the-board gains in student familiarity with and patronage of downtown businesses, “validate that this engagement initiative is a long-term process and show that you have to educate the new students.”
“We really flow right into the downtown, and we think the data shows that there’s been a shift in the campus culture of how [students] view the downtown,” Cohen remarked.
Local business owners have seen evidence that the Initiative is working. According to Joshua Mast, owner of Posh at the Scranton Club, a restaurant on North Washington Avenue, there have been increases in the number of students coming to the restaurant for lunch or dinner. Family weekends, holidays, and Commencement weekend have also brought more University-related guests to Posh.
“Our reservations for this year’s graduation were also higher than last year,” Mast said.
John and Lara Alexiou, owners of Steamtown Hot Yoga on North Washington Avenue, were also present at the May 2nd meeting and are glad to be located so close to campus. Since their move from their Moosic Street location, they have seen drastic increases in students practicing at their studio.
John Alexiou, whose business offers daily hot yoga practice as well as international yoga retreats, sees that the Downtown Initiative aligns with the business practices he learned from one of his master yoga teachers.
“As long as the businesses are focused on helping one another, the community prospers,” Alexiou said.
In addition to events designed to get students downtown, service opportunities like the Back to School Bonanza and the Downtown Planters project have helped to link the campus and the business community. Also successful has been the Royal Card Downtown program, which has been in a pilot phase.
“So far we see that students are using it, and we would look now in the next year to see how we would expand it,” Cohen said.
According to Cohen, another program which has proved mutually beneficial to campus and community and is now pegged for expansion is the Internship Initiative, led by the Small Business Development Center. Within the pilot program, students have had the opportunity to intern at several Scranton businesses in various professional areas, including marketing, software development, human resources, accounting, and communications.