Western New Yorkers often refer to Buffalo as the “City of Good Neighbors,” a nod to the unity of its residents and their communal embrace of the region that they call home. It has been a goal of mine since becoming president of Niagara University in 2000 to have an interpretation of this moniker applied to NU, whereby our staff, faculty and students would be regarded as a university of good neighbors.
Cultivating the bond between the university and the town that houses it, or the town-gown relationship as it’s commonly called, is mutually advantageous. Engaged universities are better able to integrate the teaching, research, and service functions of the institution, while the community is able to use university resources to drive local economic growth, promote workforce development and revive urban areas in decline.
At a time when many municipalities and businesses are striving to be leaner financially, integrating the university and the town as a unified entity makes sound economic sense. Moreover, developing a stimulating intellectual atmosphere typical of a college town helps recruit and retain students and staff, and it also improves the quality of life for both community members and college personnel.
Over the last decade, Niagara University has taken great steps toward strengthening its relationships with the cities of Niagara Falls and Buffalo as well as the many other villages and towns that make up our community. Although it is true that these affiliations usually begin with elected officials and university presidents, it is of paramount importance that outreach extends beyond administrative offices. It gives me great pleasure to say that we have buyin from the top down, particularly when it comes to these community-oriented initiatives. We, as an institution, are committed to working closely with Buffalo-Niagara’s business and government leaders to enhance our region in strategic and sustainable ways.
This community-minded approach can largely be traced back to our heritage as a Vincentian university. Service learning, in its most fundamental sense, corresponds directly with contributing to the greater good of our community.
One of Niagara University’s flagship service programs, Learn and Serve Niagara, provides necessary assistance to the poor, infirmed, aged and youth of the local community through a variety of endeavors. Last year alone, almost 900 NU students were involved in Learn and Serve Niagara activities that provided tutoring and mentoring services to school-aged children at 130 locations throughout the region.
Niagara’s Office of Campus Ministry takes a lead role in promoting several service projects throughout the year, while each of Niagara’s four specialized colleges has followed suit, instituting a number of programs that foster engagement among faculty and students and the surrounding communities. The variety and breadth of Niagara’s community partnerships are so expansive that it would be impossible to do them justice in this limited space.
Moving forward, we realize that a meaningful partnership must exist between the city of Niagara Falls and Niagara University, one that shares a common bond and a common vision. We will continue to seek out and implement programs that are beneficial to the community and in accord with our mission as a Vincentian university. We can — and will — continue to be good neighbors.
If you have any suggestions as to how Niagara University can continue to be a good neighbor to the people in our Western New York region, please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
God bless you all,
Joseph L. Levesque, C.M.