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Embracing the college-community relationship

There are many challenges on the horizon as the 2010 legislative session of the Colorado General Assembly begins this week. All elected state officials and public employees understand that substantial state budget challenges will be front and center for the Legislature. This means that much will be discussed and written about higher education funding. It occurred to me that the opening of the legislative session is a good time for all of us in the Gunnison Valley to pause and consider the many services and advantages that Western State College brings to the valley. Recently a community member remarked, “I can’t imagine what this community would be like without Western.” This comment inspired me to explore Western’s contributions to the Gunnison Valley. The College-Community relationship has existed for more than 100 years. As with any longtime relationship, there is a benefit to taking a fresh look at “seeing one another for the first time again.” Let me share with you the ways in which Western positively contributes to life in the Gunnison Valley.
Local economic impact
—Western employs about 330 full-time and part-time staff and also employs about 450 students (part-time) for a total payroll of more than $18 million per year.
—In a 2005 local economic impact survey of WSC prepared by Denver-based Development Research Partners, the direct and indirect economic impact of Western on the Gunnison region totals $56.6 million.
—Last summer, Western State athletic camps brought in 1,728 campers from 20 states and generated nearly $240,000. The campers were among nearly 5,000 summer visitors to campus.
Public service and civic engagement
—WSC students, faculty and staff continuously take part in and initiate service projects and fundraisers in the Gunnison Valley. Among those projects are: The Good Neighbor Program; Gunnison Literacy Action Program; Partners (serving as mentors); Gunnison Arts Center; community clean-up; trail building/maintenance; Relay for Life and Tough Enough to Wear Pink fundraising; elementary and middle school programs; collaboration and program development with recreation classes at Gunnison High School; tax filing assistance for low-income residents; and ESL programs.
—Western has the only nationally certified college Mountain Rescue Team. They went on 24 missions in 2009.
—Last year, students conducted research to help develop the Van Tuyl Land Management Plan.
—Annually, students in the business program’s Small Business Institute create marketing plans for local businesses.
—In 2009, the Small Business Development Center at Western provided free business counseling and training for 234 clients in seven counties.
Regional leader in environmental initiatives
—Western set a “green construction” precedent with the first LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) building in the Gunnison Valley – the Borick Business Building; all new construction projects on campus will achieve LEED standards.
—The College will have the first biomass boiler in the Western Slope, which will be installed in the Taylor Hall.
Arts and entertainment for the community
—Music department concerts, art exhibits by students, faculty and guest artists; student performances and films; athletic events, campus festivals, such as the Winter Carnival –provide arts and entertainment to enhance the quality of life in the Gunnison Valley.
—Western annually hosts and organizes academic enrichment events, such as the Headwaters Conference, Water Workshop, Environmental Symposium and Writing the Rockies.
— The Extended Studies Office provides life-long educational opportunities in the Gunnison Valley. They also organize and host the Summer Teachers Institute, which brings more than 200 teachers to campus.
As evidenced by the examples above, Western generates additional benefits that greatly enhance life in the Gunnison Valley. We are proud of life-changing educational opportunities offered at Western and hope the community shares in that pride.

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