Resources > Blog > August 25, 2023

Building Community Through Connections with Higher Education 

Students working with a teacher at a computer

With the goal of cultivating a Healthy Parkinson’s Community, the Syracuse, New York Community Action Committee (CAC) has been diligently collecting data and working toward a better understanding of the surrounding environment. A major highlight of this work lies within the meaningful partnerships they hope to make with other organizations. 

Specifically, they worked to connect with local colleges and universities; the connections they fostered—especially with LeMoyne College—have been critical for the Syracuse CAC. LeMoyne College has been influential by incorporating the CAC’s interest in researching local Parkinson’s community needs into course requirements in various academic programs. 

Victories the Syracuse CAC Experienced From Working With Local Higher Education Institutions 

  • LeMoyne students and faculty have been helpful in examining large scale data from healthcare providers in the Syracuse area. The CAC used the data to locate areas with concentrations of people with Parkinson’s and to determine gaps there in services for people with Parkinson’s.  
  • Mary Anne Corasaniti, one of the leaders of the Syracuse CAC, estimates that the students’ contributions increased what the CAC was able to accomplish by 90%. Importantly, the projects served the students, too: They received academic credit and gained real work experience by engaging with the CAC. 
  • The relationship with LeMoyne and other schools has broadened the CAC’s reach. Working with LeMoyne fostered and strengthened connections with people who can build and support the healthy Parkinson’s community into the future. 
  • By connecting with college students, the CAC has a steady stream of new people familiar with the work of the CAC and with the needs of the Parkinson’s community. 
  • Working with college students, staff, and faculty opens doors for the members of the CAC and Parkinson’s community to serve as mentors and participate in educating the next generation of leaders. 

Tips for Connecting with College Staff, Faculty, and Students 

  • Make inroads where you can. Sometimes, it is best to leverage your existing connections. You might make your first connections through an administrator, a staff member, a faculty member, or even through a student. Get started in whatever way presents itself to you.  
  • Find the most dedicated champion for your program and project inside your institutions. This may be a student, staff member, faculty member, or administrator. It may take time to connect with these champions, so be patient! 
  • Understand the commitment you are making. You may have some influence over a student’s grade, and you should be sure you’ll be able to see through what you start. Students have tight schedules, so consider and communicate the short- and long-term goals of the collaboration. 
  • Understand the cycles of college students. When making plans with college staff or faculty, be certain you know when students’ coursework begins, when they have breaks, and when their coursework ends. It is also important to understand that college students’ workloads sometimes unpredictably fluctuate, so prepare for potential inconsistency. 
  • Be prepared for hurdles around publication of any materials produced with student help. Colleges often have policies or set limitations about how students are able to represent work resulting from a class. There may also be other practical limitations. For example, it would be inappropriate to ask medical students and physical therapy students to do blood pressure checks without proper oversight from preceptors. 
  • Be ready for possible attrition. College students drop out of classes or withdraw from college altogether, so you might have some unpredictable attrition. Additionally, not all participants will be able or willing to contribute to the same degree, and each individual has unique communication and participation needs based on their schedules. 
  • Know that some work may not be appropriate for students to undertake. This might include direct contact with people with Parkinson’s or scrubbing data of personally identifiable information. You may also have projects that require more time than students have available. 
  • Consider ALL the places you might find relevant connections with students, staff, and faculty. You might find interested people across the entire range of the college’s programs from the business school to nursing, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and marketing programs. Don’t get stuck thinking you must work only with one group! Many academic programs have a project component that might be a fruitful avenue to consider. For example, while the Syracuse CAC has engaged students in conducting market research, you might need marketing support and could ask graphic design students to help expand your portfolio of resources and generate new ideas. 
  • Don’t overlook smaller schools! Many higher education institutions are eager to connect students with real-world opportunities, but connecting with the biggest or most well-known university or college in your area can be more challenging than connecting with a smaller school. While the Syracuse CAC now also has excellent connections with Syracuse University, these connections took longer to develop than the ones with LeMoyne. Sometimes bigger schools, despite having more resources, can have more hurdles and the staff and faculty can be harder to reach. Because of this, it can be especially useful to facilitate connections to larger institutions through existing relationships. 

Find the Solution That’s Right for You and Your Community

The Syracuse CAC’s experience highlights the power of fostering connections everywhere you can. While Mary Anne and the Syracuse CAC found productive relationships with colleges and universities, this may not be an option in every community.

The best way for you to connect with interested and energetic support might be to work with a college group, or maybe it is with your local elementary school. The best path for your group may be to connect with another type of local organization altogether.

One key strength of any Healthy Parkinson’s Community is the ability to gather broad engagement to support living well with Parkinson’s. Be creative, have fun, and–like the Syracuse CAC did–find ways to push the boundaries and foster partnerships with energized people and organizations, wherever you find them in your local community.

As always, please reach out with any questions, and do not hesitate to share ideas for future resource roundups that would be helpful for you and your peers as community leaders! 

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