Shawnee State Strengthens Community Connections
by Brenda Gibson
As a regional university, a vital part of the Shawnee State University mission is to “enrich the lives of the community,” a central theme of progress at the university not only this past year, but in every year since its beginning more than 27 years ago says Dr. Rita Rice Morris, SSU President.
“That is at the heart of what we do and why we were created,” Morris said. “Everything from improving access to higher education for the people of our region, making a college education more affordable, developing programs that meet the needs of our local industry, contributing to our local economy, and linking SSU resources to the overall needs of our community — make a difference and enrich lives.”
This past year, SSU’s connections to the community were strengthened by, among other initiatives, a record-number of student and faculty-led service projects.
During the year, more than 1,800 students provided 13,000 volunteer hours through SSU’s Center for Community Service. The largest student service projects included Shawnee Gives Back, where more than 500 students kicked-off fall semester by serving in more than 35 local agencies and organizations, the Martin Luther King, Jr Day of Service and the 9/11 Day of Service and Remembrance where hundreds of students came together to make a difference.
Many academic programs at SSU found ways this year, as in others, to enhance student education while also benefitting the people who live in our community. Through Shawnee State’s mobile health unit, nursing students provided health education, screenings, and services in the area. By partnering with area hospitals, agencies, and coalitions, this mobile unit makes a difference throughout the region, reaching many who would not otherwise receive services.
The dental clinic at SSU helps to improve access to care throughout the region with nearly 1,400 patient visits each year. Recently, dental hygiene students helped to provide free dental screenings and education to 70 elementary school children through the annual “Give Kids a Smile Day.” This event provides practical, clinical experience for SSU students while providing access to needed dental services to an underserved population in our community.
Similar outreach programs and activities were held throughout the year through Shawnee State’s various academic programs including the Master of Occupational Therapy program, Teacher Education, and Social Sciences, among others.
For its commitment to service, Shawnee State was recognized last year by being named to the U.S. President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for the third consecutive year.
One of its newest student clubs, the SSU Rotaract Club, a student civic group associated with Rotary International, received the 2011-12 Changemakers Award for community service.
Through other partnerships with business and industry, SSU also enhanced its ability to meet the educational needs of the region this past year by providing non-college training and education to more than 1,000 area employees throughout the area. Through grants written and administered by SSU, several local school districts were able to offer After School programs and College Tech Prep programs. Partnerships with other organizations benefitted arts and music programming this year, as well as science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programming.
Through a partnership with the University of Cincinnati, University of Rio Grande, Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, and the College of Mount St. Joseph, Shawnee State University is expanding its capacity for internships, providing more opportunities for its growing number of students and for local businesses.
Shawnee State University now has nearly 4,600 students on campus with more than 1,000 of them living in university housing. While many students come from Ohio, nearly every state in the nation and 20 different countries are represented at the university. SSU now has nearly 14,000 alumni throughout the world.
Enrollment at SSU has increased by more than 39 percent in the past ten years and the campus is now, as President Rita Rice Morris says, “bursting at the seams.”
“We have been one of the fastest growing public universities in the state of Ohio,” Morris said. “That’s something in which we take great pride – because of what it means. We are educating more students who are using their degrees to make a difference in our community, state, region, nation, and world.”
Rapid growth over the past few years has challenged the university’s facilities, with greater demands for classrooms, laboratories, housing, and spaces for student activities, prompting university leaders to implement the next phase of SSU’s Master Facilities Plan – a 20-year plan developed in 2007 that provides a footprint for campus growth to accommodate an eventual 5,300 students. The university’s recent request that the City close a portion of 3rd Street from Gay Street to Waller Street is part of this plan.
“A contained campus will allow us to provide a safe learning environment that matches the talents and needs of our current students and will help us to continue to attract new students,” Morris said.
More students translates to greater economic impact to the region. A 2009 study, using fall 2008 student enrollment figures for SSU which were at 3,976 compared to today’s enrollment of 4,600, showed that SSU has a $93 million total annual economic impact to the area. SSU directly employs 877 people. Their spending, and that of the University and students supports more than 3,700 additional jobs in the area.
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