By Amy Cossentino
YSU Associate Provost and Dean of YSU Sokolov Honors College
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – It is no secret that Youngstown State University has been a pillar of the community for more than 100 years, attracting bright minds and driving innovation in the Mahoning Valley. What is not always at the forefront of news is the power to enact change for a common good by addressing community needs through mutually beneficial relationships between YSU and the community.
Recognizing the significance of reciprocal relationships, YSU’s Plan for Strategic Actions to Take Charge of Our Future includes a strategy to inventory all of the ways in which YSU engages in the community. A second strategy calls for developing a framework for coordinating, collaborating and communicating engagement. Hence, PenguinPulse was born.
PenguinPulse is YSU’s platform for tracking community engagement and connecting individuals with opportunities to serve the community. Using YSU credentials, students, faculty and staff can explore volunteer opportunities and find community partners who champion causes they are passionate about, from battling food insecurity to providing a quality education.
Community partners may request a free account to customize their available volunteer opportunities. While some partners need help at one-time opportunities like food giveaways or fundraisers, others need a group of dedicated, ongoing volunteers they can count on weekly.
This “one stop shop” for community partners reaches the whole YSU community to enhance coordination with multiple on-campus groups to secure volunteers.
LISTENING TO COMMUNITY NEEDS
Since the adoption of PenguinPulse this summer, 33 community partners are using the system. A community partner advisory council has also been established to provide guidance for the implementation of the platform. While partners like United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley and Oh Wow! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science & Technology have always had a strong YSU volunteer base, PenguinPulse has increased exposure to additional community partners.
One such partner is Community Hospice in Columbiana County, which provides end-of-life care. Because volunteers interact directly with patients, they must undergo training to assist the organization. Nearly 20 YSU students have discovered Community Hospice through PenguinPulse. The organization even moved training to campus to accommodate interested volunteers.
Students report enjoying the opportunities the platform provides. One student connected with Lit Youngstown for its Fall Literacy Festival, an event he might not have heard of without PenguinPulse.
“I was able to see how much work goes into putting on an event,” said the volunteer. “I gained so much respect for the people organizing the event and for any group that has held an event like this one. It makes me appreciate the little things a lot more and encourages me to do those little acts of kindness for everyone I come across.”
Though thrilled by PenguinPulse’s success so far, if we intend to operate as a community-engaged campus, more work is ahead to continue meeting the needs of our community.
In addition to continued training on PenguinPulse for the YSU community and the onboarding of community partners into the platform, YSU is in the process of identifying community-engaged learning courses. Incorporating community engagement and experiential learning into the curriculum may lead to a certificate program.
PenguinPulse is a useful tool proving to have benefits beyond what we initially imagined.
Interested in learning more about PenguinPulse or other community engagement initiatives at Youngstown State University? Email the Office of Community Engagement: [email protected].