The Community Institute for Well-Being has partnered with Greg O’Connell ’64 to refashion part of a warehouse in Red Hook, New York in Brooklyn into a space for students to do courses, research and internships while engaging with the local community. Project coordinator Maddy Smith ’14 has spent almost two months living in Red Hook and communicating with local nonprofits, citizens and connections back at Geneseo. At a forum hosted on Wednesday Sept. 23, Smith explained that she is investigating “what the needs are in Red Hook and how Geneseo can fit into them.”
One recurring concern at the forum was that projects would fade out or grow impersonal; Smith’s involvement is meant to counteract that. The goal is that Geneseo will have an engaged presence in the Red Hook community and will maintain an ongoing relationship with local schools and nonprofit organizations.
The initial opportunity arose when O’Connell bought 28 acres of warehouse space from the Port Authority in 1992 and began philanthropic work in the community. In recent years, he collaborated with Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Carol Long to create a link between the New York City area and the Geneseo community.
The project has begun and its first event—an alumni meet and greet—is scheduled for Oct. 3. Additionally, the Geneseo warehouse space was recently used for a local dance performance as a way to introduce the group to the community.
Smith and Director for the Community Institute of Well-Being and a partner of the project David Parfitt are looking for student input regarding what direction the project should take. Students at the forum were encouraged to share what they hope will come out of the Red Hook location and give Smith suggestions and advice on how to best move forward.
“Right now, it’s all about learning what sort of paths the program could take and understanding that if you have an idea, we are finding ways you can work with it,” Smith said. “If you have enthusiasm, then bring your ideas to the table so we can work with them.”
The program has definite faculty interest in research and coursework—particularly from the geography, English, history and communication departments. According to Smith, a large component of choosing which classes could be taught at Red Hook is a search for courses that could not be taught at Geneseo or online.
“The goal is to have place-based courses,” Smith said. “It just makes sense financially. There’s no reason to bring people to Red Hook if there’s no specific draw.”
Course development is underway and Smith is in the process of connecting with local nonprofits so that students can get internships in Red Hook. Students can also apply for grants of up to $5,000 and apply to research positions in collaboration with professors or individually.
“It gives students and faculty a chance to work with what people might say are underserved neighborhoods,” Smith said. “There’s many resources for doing that in Livingston County, but there’s so many more when it comes to Brooklyn and that can be a huge learning opportunity in itself.”
Another aspect of this program is student teaching and school outreach. Education majors can student teach in Red Hook, which would be a very different experience from student teaching in Geneseo. Smith is also considering different options for outreach to high school students, such as after school programs or outreach to potential Geneseo students.
“I think it turns into visual learning, engaged learning and it opens doors for diversity that might not be here at Geneseo—not because of the way this college works—but because of what we have to offer and where we are located,” Smith said. “New York City is a hub and Red Hook will allow students to work with alumni who are everywhere from TIME Magazine to the top bank on Wall Street.”