By Brooke Schultz
Chestertown, President Kurt Landgraf said last week, is not a college-town.
“Here’s what I always say, sometimes people don’t like this quote, but I believe this or I wouldn’t say this,” he said. “This is a town with a college in it. There’s a huge difference.”
Landgraf said he previously lived in Princeton, which he said was a college-town, as the two were “very linked in what they do.” Here, he said, the two remain quite separate, which is “not a good thing for the town or the College.”
Since coming to Kent County in July when his term as president began, Landgraf has been interested in engaging more meaningfully with the town, he said.
“I’m going to go on the board with the Kent School, I’m on the Save The Hospital group, I joined the Main Street board. We got very engaged with the town with the Dickens at Christmas, which was greatly appreciated,” he said. “Our faculty does a lot with the Kent County school system, gets into the school system and provides support for them. We’re becoming [a] more overt and visible presence.”
The College’s United Way of Kent County campaign set a tone with the town, he said.
“The recognition we get for that is that we’re part of the community, we care about the community, that we want to recognize the people of Kent County,” he said.
United Way of Kent County supports local charities and non-profits that provide emergency services, crisis intervention, and “self-sufficiency programs and youth support,” according to their website. In December, WC donated $28,000 to the local chapter after 82 faculty and staff members contributed support, which Landgraf matched, according to a press release from the College.
“Kent County is one of the poorest counties in Maryland; it has a very high unemployment rate. This is a county with significant social issues. By increasing our presence with United Way, by increasing our presence with the county—we always talk about this thing about having moral courage, and having social responsibility,” he said. “Those are words unless you do something about it. I think we’ve made some improvements in that area; we still have a long way to go.”
The College has also found a way to provide WC apparel to local merchants downtown through a subsidiary company through Barnes and Noble.
“If you came here and didn’t know WC was here—for Downrigging Weekend, or for Harry Potter Festival, those kinds of fun things that happened here—if you didn’t know the College was here, you wouldn’t know the College is here. We have to have more a presence downtown.”
Rolando Irizarry, vice president for College Relations and Marketing, said through this system, merchants can make their own WC t-shirt designs with the proper logos and the College can approve the design to make sure it is “on brand.”
“It’s great, like Kurt said, to have more of a presence downtown,” he said. “We have some banners, but to have our merchandise in stores, even if they don’t fly off the racks, but it’s there, and our presence is there.”
Landgraf said that they want to make the downtown area “more comfortable and attractive for students.”
“We also want to make it more comfortable and attractive for the residents to come on campus. An example of that would, quite frankly, be our sports events, but also [the] dining hall. We could do things to make it more attractive. We had that Veterans’ [Day dinner]; we had a big turn out for that. It would be nice if we did some of that stuff and brought folks to campus,” he said. “It’s important for us to be more involved with community.”
And, he said, that’s on the College.
They’ve tried to reach out in several different ways. One is at the College’s most basic level: its students.
“Students do phenomenal things in the community,” he said. “The best thing we have going with Chestertown is you. You folks get out there and you do great stuff with Habitat for Humanity; you’re out there doing things with the churches. Students here are really, very, very community-minded.”
Landgraf also participated in a first-year pre-orientation program that was heavily immersed in the local community. They spent their day in the art galleries or taking in the downtown area, he said.
“I think when [Landgraf] first came aboard, we were with the mayor [Chris Cerino], we toured downtown, our community involvement—like he said, our students are always out there—but the College is establishing more of a presence. We always say we’re doing it, but we really show right now that we’re doing it,” Irizarry said.
Another way for the College to have meaningful involvement is by getting involved in town festivities, like the annual HP Festival.
“Our presence was a big success with kids,” Irizarry said. “To establish relationships not only with the community, but with the youngsters is very important. Moving forward, you’re going to see a lot more of that from us.”
Landgraf said that he’s still the “new guy in town” and is invited to give talks in the county, like to the Kent County Chamber of Commerce, which helps build the town-gown relations.
Additionally, the College sends a representative to sit in at the Mayor and Town Council meetings, which “sends the signal to the community that we actually care about what goes on in Chestertown,” he said.