Back in spring 2012, SUNY Cortland students dipped a timid toe into the waters of civic engagement with an effort to save the local community’s Wickwire Pool.
They since have leaped into the deep end, figuratively speaking, by creating videos, building an Internet information hub and making formal marketing presentations to raise funds for the struggling, nearly 70-year-old public swimming facility.
One of the students’ most recent projects is “Dive In: This is What Democracy Looks Like,” a short film that offers a quick glimpse at their work on behalf of Wickwire. The clip was submitted for the People’s Choice Award on the “Looking at Democracy” website and quickly rose to the top 10 in the vote standings. Fans can watch the short video and register their vote through Thursday, May 16.
“I like knowing that we helped to change a community,” remarked Amy Halvorsen, a senior new communications media major from Albany, N.Y., who’s been involved in the effort. “This project feels like you left something behind, instead of getting here and in four years, you’re out. You can contribute to something while you’re here.”
Cortland Industrialist and philanthropist Charles C. Wickwire built the pool for the city. It opened for free public use in 1946. For many years the local community has raised funds to maintain the 150- by 70-foot public swimming pool and keep admission free.
Recently, the effort was joined by students of Communication Studies Professor Caroline Kaltefleiter — or “Dr. K” as many students like to call her. Every semester, a number of SUNY Cortland students take on community-inspired projects such as the drive to save Wickwire Pool through Kaltefleiter’s New Communications Media (COM 350) and Issues in Digital Culture (COM 335) courses.
In the spring of 2012, INSTA-Act, a photo-based project by one of Kaltefleiter’s COM 335 classes, caught the eye of John McNerney ’87, the Cortland Youth Bureau’s director and a leader of the effort to keep Wickwire Pool open.
Having seen INSTA-Act, which was designed to raise campus and community awareness of local economic and educational needs while forging a deeper connection between students and the community, McNerney thought communications students from his alma mater might be interested in a new and important task: saving the community pool.
Although the recreational facility had been mended many times, a 2010 engineering report stated that the aging pool no longer was suitable for swimming and $750,000 to $1 million in renovations were needed to keep it open.
“In the beginning, some students were adamant and kind of thought they were wasting their time,” observed Simon Tuckey, a senior new communication media major from Palm Harbor, Fla. “But it wasn’t so much that we were trying to raise the $1 million between 30 students, it was more about raising awareness.”
To date, community efforts ¾ including those by SUNY Cortland students ¾ have raised more than $214,000, McNerney said.
Students and faculty have collaborated with numerous members of the Cortland community and company executives — some from as far away as Oregon — to find ways to raise enough money to renovate the community pool.
“We made a presentation at the beginning of this spring semester to City Council, and from that we raised a lot of awareness,” said another project veteran, Ethan Giventer.
“We actually got Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton to secure quite a lot of funds for us, just because she saw how motivated we were for the project,” said Giventer, a senior new communication media major from Massapequa, N.Y.
A few weeks ago, a marketing team, which consisted of four COM 350 students and Kaltefleiter, made a presentation to executives from a multinational corporation that received word about the project and wanted to help.
“They weren’t just students anymore. They were a marketing team. And they were pitching Wickwire,” Kaltefleiter said.
Although the potential sponsor was ultimately unable to donate to the pool project, some of their other marketing efforts met with success.
“We knew that if we were able to get enough people active about it, that the figures would come later, and they certainly have,” Giventer remarked.
A donation page on hopemob.org serves as a kick-starter for causes like the Wickwire Pool Project. The students have set a goal of $1,000 this semester and are just below the $800 mark.
The students increased awareness for their project by creating a social media campaign and organizing several events in the community coordinated by student-run teams.
The student-built website, wickwirepoolproject.com, is referred to by the students as a media hub because it has links to all of the different social networks, such as a live Twitter feed, a Facebook news feed, YouTube videos the students have produced, and more.
Justin Smith ’12, a SUNY Cortland graduate and former communication studies major, created the media hub during his senior year under Kaltefleiter’s supervision.
As with many of Kaltefleiter’s former students, Smith has stayed involved with the project and continues to maintain the website. Since spring 2012, nearly 100 of her students have joined the Wickwire Pool Project.
More students took the plunge last fall after Cynthia Sarver, an assistant professor of English, and her Introduction to Language Arts class blogged about the campaign’s progress.
Although the COM 350 students have devoted much time to the effort, some say that they are happy to get a sense of what life might be like when it comes time to graduate.
“Dr. K. pushes you to the point where you’re almost about to break,” Tuckey said with a laugh. “But you don’t quite break, and you get it done, and then afterwards you feel great and proud of what you’ve done and what you’ve accomplished.”
“Working on stuff with real deadlines, and not just a hypothetical project that you can do over a semester, is much more of what I’m expecting to do when I’m out in the real world,” said Kyle Atkinson, a senior dual major in new communication media and new media design from Corning, N.Y.
The Wickwire Pool Project and the INSTA-Act project have given the students a much stronger connection to the community and a sense of pride in the city of Cortland too.
“I’m in awe, absolute awe,” said project veteran Christi Nassauer, a senior new communication media major from Mount Sinai, N.Y. “It’s so much more than I expected it to be.
“My entire life, I wanted to do something that would impact someone else’s life and make a difference.”
On HopeMob, visitors can find a description of the Wickwire Pool Project and what the students are trying to accomplish. Although the students’ donation cycle ends the weekend of May 12, subsequent contributions are welcome to the PayPal account, which can be found at the bottom of the media hub page.