UAFS student projects include downtown Fort Smith, non-traditional student outreach

by Tina Alvey Dale (tdale@talkbusiness.net) 479 views 

From bicycle racks to going back to school to maker space to trolley rides, University of Arkansas at Fort Smith students are engaged in an upper level leadership class that works to develop community improvement ideas. The class, offered through the business department and taught by Fred Williams and Rusty Myers, takes a nontraditional approach to learning.

“This is our 10th year for this class. There are no lectures, though we do have several great speakers, no tests and no textbooks,” Myers said.

Instead instructors challenge students to choose an issue to work on during the semester and learn how to make a difference in the community with regard to that issue, he explained.

“We challenge them to get out in the community and make a difference during the three-month semester period,” Myers said.

Students work in teams to research needs and develop and complete a project. Three of this year’s student teams focused on projects involving downtown Fort Smith, while the other looked at ways to reach nontraditional students for UAFS. The teams presented their project reports Monday (May 6) at UAFS.

Amanda Norris and Kendell Shropshire, both of whom are nontraditional students, spent the semester working on Building Your Future, an event to expose potential students to the opportunities available at UAFS. The two set up a Friday afternoon event in the Latture conference room at UAFS with speakers and representatives from the university manning booths. Though they targeted high school students for their first event, they said they realize the group they need to pinpoint are nontraditional students who might not know all that is available at UAFS.

“We want a full event that targets the older crowd. There is plenty for high schoolers who might be looking to go here. We need to reach nontraditional candidates,” Shropshire said.

The UAFS Collegiate Ambassadors Board will consider making the event a project for the group, she said.

Moving to downtown Fort Smith, the team of Brandi Cherry, Hannah Dagley and Karly Reid wanted to do something to revitalize the image of downtown to bring more college students and young adults to that area. Their idea turned out to be Downtown Trolley Tours. After getting in touch with Talicia Richardson with 64.6 Downtown, the team decided to do an Unexpected Tour, Dagley said.

“There are a lot of people who don’t really know that much about the murals, how many there are or their back story,” she said.

The group was able to get a trolley bus from Fort Smith Transit Authority to use for the tour, and 64.6 Downtown provided a tour guide. They held the tour April 26 with 12 invited guests. And soon realized there was opportunity for enlarging the business model.

Future downtown tours the team would like to see are a Museum/Historic Tour, Food and Drink Tour, Brunch Tour and general downtown tour. They also see an opportunity for private parties, said Cherry.

“The idea is to use what downtown has and to make a party of it,” she said.

In order to do the tours though, the team would need to purchase its own trolley bus, which would coast approximately $20,000, as it will not be able to get one on a regular basis from the city, Dagley said.

Keeping an eye at helping others succeed in starting business as well as utilizing space downtown, Team Forefront, made up of students Alex Taylor, Daniel Scamardo, James Hughes, Luke Barber and Stephanie Long, want to start a nonprofit maker space and business incubator.

“The object of this is to create jobs, revitalize the downtown Fort Smith, and allow people of all demographics a space where they are able to build, create and learn,” the project’s executive summary said.

The business would rent the second floor of the Bakery District, a taproom and brewery at the site of the former Shipley Baking facility (63 S. Sixth St.). The building is owned by Central Business Improvement District Chairman Bill Hanna of Hanna Oil & Gas. Students said the 6,150-square-foot second floor of the facility would be ideal for their business. The maker space would allow those with ideas a space to bring them to life and would house a 3-D printer, a laser cutter, CNC machine and lathes.

The business incubator would allow people to then rent space to start their business and provide business and legal advice as well as other services. Startup expenses for the business would be high, around $221,000, the group expects, but they have a plan.

Initial funds will be raised through crowdfunding, Taylor said. Once there is something to show, they will approach private donors, and apply for grants. They will also sell memberships to the the maker space and business incubator portions of the business. The group has extended invitations for the advisory board that will need to be in place for a nonprofit and is in the process of starting the application process for a 501c(3) organization, Taylor said.

Jonathan Jones, Kody Taylor, Jacob Martin and Colton Vereyken chose to focus on bike racks downtown. Originally, the team considered placing bike racks in various places downtown, Jones said. But when the group started inquiries, they were directed to the Community Rescue Mission.

“We had many ups and downs with this project,” Martin said. “We really wanted to give these kids something fun to look at and play on and a place to put their bikes.”

Ultimately, the group opted for two metal bike racks to be placed at the mission. They contacted the UAFS art department for design help, and settled on two designs, one that looks like a fish and one that resembles a bicycle. The racks are under construction at the UAFS welding department, Jones said. After that they will go to the art department for painting and completion. They are expected to be installed at the mission in September.

When asked by Hanna, president and CEO of Hanna Oil and Gas Company, why they chose just to put them at the mission and not in a more public place downtown, Jones said, they hoped the two racks are just the beginning.

“We were told someone at (the mission) was working on something for there, and this would fit. We are hoping others will see them, think they are cool, and want to get involved by putting another one downtown,” Jones said, noting ideally many people would get involved and creative bike racks would start popping up throughout downtown Fort Smith.

“What’s great about all these projects is that these students are not trying to reinvent the wheel. They really looked at what is here (in Fort Smith) and focused on how they could repurpose and revive that. They have done some outstanding work,” Richardson, with 64.6 Downtown, said following the presentations.

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