Susquehanna University students are proposing ideas aimed at improving the relationship with borough residents and business owners.

Following a public forum with university and borough leaders held in October, students in the Rhetoric, Democracy and Marketing course interviewed 125 borough residents for feedback to develop their proposals.

The ideas being pitched and under consideration by school administrators is expanding the student internship at local businesses; holding an international cultural fair where university students could share their study-abroad experiences, Selinsgrove high school students could share information about cultures they are studying and residents could share their own family backgrounds; a program to involve SU students in town meetings and as liaisons between the university and borough; expanding the Clean Sweep program to include more help offered to local residents needing landscaping and other work and establishing a downtown merchandise space where Susquehanna River Hawks and Selinsgrove Seals merchandise is displayed.

The class is part of a National Endowment for the Humanities grant awarded to professors Betsy Verhoeven, associate dean of the School of Arts and Sciences; Nicholas Clark, chair of the Department of Political Science, and Emma Fleck, associate professor of management in the Sigmund Weis School of Business, for a joint project on civil discourse.

"We focused on the town-gown relationship and figuring out a way for the town and university to work together," said Verhoeven. "How can we amplify the contributions each makes."

This fall, the students will focus on promoting civil discourse on a national level, she said.

"In both years, the project (is) really about bringing together and facilitating healthy dialogue between different people," said Clark. "In the first year, the question really was how can the university build a stronger relationship with the town of Selinsgrove. So we held a town forum, the students interviewed town residents, and then developed projects that would strengthen the relation. The process was as important as the outcome; the students learned more about the town and the residents through the forum and the interviews and gained a better perspective on where they are coming from as a result. This next year, the same basic idea will be applied toward bridging differences that people have over national policy issues. We want to equip students to be able to better understand and discuss issues with those with whom they disagree."

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