By Steve Sears
William Paterson University President James Helldobler perhaps says it best.
“Since 1855, William Paterson University and the city of Paterson have shared a long, proud, and powerful history. Back in our early days as a normal school, this institution trained teachers for the emerging free public schools of Paterson. Through the years, our partnership with Paterson has continued through a wide variety of initiatives including our work with the Paterson Public Schools, the Small Business Development Center, the Great Falls National Historical Park, and many civic engagement projects. The education that we provided helped change the social fabric of the region 150 years ago, and I am proud to report we’re still effecting change in 2019 as our faculty and graduates provide a powerful impact on our region, the state and the world.”
He then adds, “You see, William Paterson University is more than a neighbor to Paterson; our relationship is part of the heart of our institution. We are proud to be a ‘university without walls’ and a community partner in the revitalization of Paterson.”
In January 2019, William Paterson University and the City of Paterson announced the launch of Propel Paterson, a new partnership designed to support Paterson’s revitalization through learning, research, and action. The goal is for the University and the city of Paterson to work collaboratively to transform faculty research into opportunities for economic and workforce development, educational growth and community action. The focus realms are healthcare, education, business, social services, and arts, culture and tourism.
Propel Paterson collaboration between Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh, Helldobler, and the University’s Paterson Metropolitan Region Research Center, which is headed by Dr. Vince Parrillo, a professor of sociology. “Applying the intellectual capital of the University and its creative and imaginative faculty allows both faculty and students to apply their knowledge and know-how to a real-world situation that will support the efforts in Paterson to re-invigorate the city,” says Helldobler.
“There’s such a natural fit between William Paterson and the City of Paterson,” says Sayegh, “from its founding to
today. Many Paterson youth, including first generation college-goers, find a home on the campus of WPU. The initiatives connected to Propel Paterson will bring the concerns of these students, who are thinking about their future career paths and where they want to live after college, to the forefront so we keep their energy and enthusiasm in our community.”
The Propel Paterson initiative was kicked off with a special conference on Friday, February 15 at William Paterson University. In attendance were city leaders, faculty and administrators of WPU, state legislators, and economic redevelopment experts.
“During the symposium,” says Helldobler, “faculty from our full range of disciplines – health sciences, business and economics, arts and culture, humanities and social sciences, and education – started conversations with Paterson’s leadership and community groups to develop bold new ideas. We plan to work collaboratively to transform faculty research into opportunities for economic and workforce development, educational growth, and community action. We will be reviewing the ideas put forward from the roundtable discussions and develop a strategic matrix of our plans moving forward working in close consultation with the City of Paterson.”
Sayegh adds, “The conference was a great jumping off point, and we look forward to ways that we can bring the research and academic community of WPU into the daily life of the city – through conversations around economic development, the future of work and play, education, and so much more. We look forward to the next opportunity to partner and develop this collaboration further and think that suggestions from the break-out sessions at the end of the conference will serve as our next steps. I can’t wait to see them!” Sayegh then reflects back to the summer of 2018. “Both President Helldobler and I started our terms on the same day – July 1 – and we had our first conversation on July 10. From that early meeting, we knew we wanted to collaborate more, so then it was just about working out the details for the first step.”
“That became Propel Paterson.”