Vassar Today

Area College Students Aim for More Collaboration

Vassar Student Association Council President Jennifer Epley ’00 thinks that the Poughkeepsie Institute, a collaborative organization of area colleges—Vassar, Bard, Marist, the Culinary Institute of America, Dutchess County Community College, and SUNY New Paltz—and community leaders, is loaded with potential good beyond its original academic focus. The keys to unlocking those benefits, she says, are students. She and former VSA president Evan Greenstein ’99 worked with the institute’s board of directors last year to capitalize on that potential by organizing the Poughkeepsie Institute Student Council. 

According to Peter Leonard, director of field work and institute director, students have always been crucial to the institute. Until recently, however, their involvement has been limited to participation in team-taught, multidisciplinary courses that focus on issues of local import such as race and ethnicity, welfare reform, and transportation. This semester, the students are studying homelessness and housing in the city of Poughkeepsie. But while the social research that emerges from the course benefits the community in numerous ways, both area students and members of the institute’s board felt that the students could do more in the way of community service. Thus, the birth of the Student Council. 

The council planned its first official community service project—a literacy/book drive—last fall. Each campus conducted its own drive under the auspices of the Student Council and selected a local charity to receive the donations. For two weeks at the end of last semester boxes placed in each of Vassar’s dorms welcomed contributions from Vassar students. New Hope Community Center and the Family Partnership Center, along with local schools and libraries, were among Vassar’s chosen charities. According to Baine Kerr ’03, freshman class president and director of the drive, the response on campus was good. 

The hope is that a successful book drive will get the word out about the council and the institute and will lead to more projects and activities. “If we can get our name out there and convince others to join our cause, we can have the people and resources to do another good deed,” Ms. Epley wrote in an e-mail. “We hope the interest and energy is out there and that this project will serve as a positive catalyst.”