Enrolled in a one-of-a-kind course during the fall semester of 2012, students from Mount Holyoke College and Holyoke Community College (HCC) put their heads together in a collaborative effort to make the Falls area of South Hadley a better place to be. The course was partially designed to introduce two-year college students to the four-year college environment, and is among the first of its kind. At the close of the semester, the students presented their work to an audience including professors and deans of both colleges as well as town officials.
One group of students spent the semester brainstorming uses for South Hadley's newly acquired FiberMark building. The town acquired the building as part of a deal when purchasing a lot intended for its new public library, and now needs to somehow put it to use. After detailing the history and condition of the building, the group focused on their work in creating and administering a survey to town residents. The students kept the survey short, and even offered coupons for free ice cream donated from Friendly's Restaurant to entice Falls residents to give their input. Included in the survey were questions collecting demographic information and preference for the use of the site, along with a spot for residents to voice any of their concerns. A fifty-five percent majority of respondents expressed interest in a coffee shop or bakery for the site.
Another group of students ventured into Holyoke seeking insight into how best to begin revitalization efforts in the town. The students surveyed and interviewed business owners along High Street, looking into factors such as financial support received by business owners from the city, the effects of criminal activity on business, and the problematic deterioration of the city due to neglect. Students found that while business owners were faced with many obstacles in keeping shops open, they were enthusiastic about any potential efforts to revive the city.
Irma Medina, a Mount Holyoke alum now working at HCC, helped to organize the collaborative program between the colleges. We're looking forward to watching it grow in the years to come!