VISTA Leaves Lasting Changes in Southwestern MN Higher Ed Community

August 12, 2019

Last month South Central College (SCC) in southwestern MN finished a successful two year, two term AmeriCorps VISTA project. Jessica Schisel was the VISTA for both terms and through her work she was able to develop lasting changes that will help SCC’s student population with non-academic needs that pose as barriers to academic success. Jessica’s project is inspiring and shows us what the Campus Compact AmeriCorps VISTA program is all about – creating sustainable solutions to address poverty and connecting higher education with community engagement.

Jessica started her project by surveying the student population at SCC’s North Mankato and Faribault campuses. In collaboration with the college’s Office of Research & Institutional Effectiveness and its Achieving the Dream Community Resource Integration team (ADT CRI), Jessica surveyed all 2,748 students in the school’s system. The results gave 318 responses to questions on needs in areas of housing, food, current public assistance use, childcare, wellness, and mental health. Alarmingly it was found that nearly 46% of SCC students worried about running out of food at least once a year. More findings showed that about 26% of SCC students reported they, or someone in their family, didn’t have enough money to receive medical care within the past 12 months. Given what Jessica learned from this survey it became clear that SCC needed to take action towards addressing student living needs with a long-term solution.

Throughout the rest of Jessica’s time as a VISTA she worked to develop key relationships with students and local community organizations that helped to address non-academic needs. She began her work by creating a framework for sustainable and permanent resource centers at the North Mankato and Faribault campuses. At these locations, students will be able to access food, professional clothing, quiet spaces, information about local community organization resources, a Mother’s room, and news on upcoming events. Additionally, through her collaboration with student government she helped to secure new funding for two social worker positions for each of the SCC campus resource centers. These positions will be able to help students address mental and emotional health needs and show them how to use the resources that Jessica worked to bring together at the centers’.

Jessica’s two service years at SCC will leave lasting changes in the North Mankato and Faribault higher ed communities for years to come. Her development work on assessing student needs helped to create valuable resource centers and accompanying social worker positions. Having these two additions to the college will help greatly in addressing students non-academic needs. From her work SCC should see not only higher graduation rates, but also a student body that is more connected to their community and one that will be ready to give back in return for the support it received.