When Jim Hintz arrived at UConn from Ohio University in May 2007, there were sighs of relief in several University departments. Staff there would soon be freed of extra duties that had been added to their work loads because there was no specific office set up to handle them.
“We picked up pieces from all over the place,” says Hintz, the first director of the fledgling Office for Off-Campus Student Services.
“People did what they could, but most of this stuff was outside the scope of their duties. So we consolidated a lot of programs and services that we offered our off-campus population, and increased, improved and built upon what was already there. We are a one-stop shopping opportunity for off-campus services.”
Hintz helps students look for housing, match roommates, and understand their leases. He also gives advice on their rights as tenants and responsibilities as members of the community – and hosts the occasional barbecue and Wiffle Ball game.
On the other side, Hintz works with town officials to keep them abreast of what his office is doing, and to lend a hand when community members complain about students’ behavior.
He serves on the Mansfield Community Campus Partnership, which is dedicated to improving the quality of life for all members of the Mansfield community, and on the University/Town Relations Committee, which provides a forum for formal communication between town and University officials on issues of mutual interest.
And he works with property managers and landlords.
“Jim is the best addition to campus/community relations since I don’t know when,” says longtime Mansfield Mayor Betsy Paterson. “He understands the issues, he’s great with the kids, and he’s very easy to work with. He understands the impact of students on the community, the residents’ expectations of the kids living off campus, and he makes sure the students recognize they have both rights and responsibilities.”
About 6,000 students live off campus in about 10 apartment complexes and an increasing number of single family homes or with their parents in nearby communities. More than 700 students showed up for Hintz’s first off-campus housing fair last year.
To deliver his messages to such a diverse, wide-spread group, Hintz isn’t averse to old fashioned marketing. He, his program assistant, and a graduate student have offered hot chocolate in the primary commuter parking lots. They also ride on the buses regularly, handing out information packets to the student riders, who are mostly commuters.
“I want to raise awareness not just about my office, but also about all the other educational opportunities and services that are available to these students,” he says.
| President Michael J. Hogan visits with students living off campus at Celeron Square Apartments, during a recent door-to-door tour by University and town officials. In the foreground is Mansfield Mayor Betsy Paterson.
|Photo by Peter Morenus
“I’ve asked a lot of other departments what they want the off-campus students to know – library hours, Senior Year Experience, career services.”
He also expanded an ongoing effort by the Mansfield Community Campus Partnership to bring University and town officials on a door-to-door tour of as many off-campus apartment complexes as possible over a three-day period.
This year, he convinced President Michael Hogan to join the group.
Students at Celeron Square poured out of their apartments when they noticed Hogan and a group of television cameras heading across a field.
“I looked through my peephole and said ‘hmmm. I don’t know any of these people,’ said Adam Soklow, a senior from Burlington. “Then I opened the door and President Hogan and the Mayor are standing there. I think it’s great.”
Zack Roday of Orange agreed. “It’s a great thing he’s doing,” Roday said, “especially during the first week of school. It’s a great tradition.”
Hintz has also added new programs, most recently the Community Leader Program, which is similar to one he ran in Ohio. He hired eight students – two at Carriage House, three at Celeron Square, one each at Hunting Lodge and Clubhouse apartments, and one to work at single family homes at the corner of North Eagleville and Hunting Lodge roads – who are responsible for communicating information from Hintz’s office to the students living in their area, and vice versa. Each has a small budget to organize activities, including cook-outs and games.
“If the students in these complexes get to know each other,” says Hintz, “they’ll start to respect each other and respect the community they live in.”
“It’s hard to believe Jim has only been here a year,” says Dean of Students Lee Williams, to whom Hintz reports.
“He’s accomplished a tremendous amount in that time. Because of his work, both our off-campus students and Mansfield residents are seeing benefits.”