Bridging the Town-Gown Divide

Anne Fisher-Henson '24 (left) presented research on the student-ambassador position during the 2023 CCLA Civic Engagement Celebration last spring. Above, she poses with former student-ambassador Jessie Hayes '22.

Anne Fisher-Henson '24 (left) presented research on the student-ambassador position during the 2023 CCLA Civic Engagement Celebration last spring. Above, she poses with former student-ambassador Jessie Hayes '22.

Student-leadership position fosters close partnerships, impactful work

by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

Twenty years ago, Dickinson created a new opportunity for student leaders to get involved in the local community as Carlisle Borough Student Ambassadors. As non-voting members of the Carlisle Borough Council, they bring a Dickinson perspective to the council and report the council’s perspective back to campus. Along the way, they learn how local governments are run, develop valuable connections with campus and college leaders, and complete a project centering on town-gown relations and community work.

The most recent student-ambassador, Anne Fisher-Henson ’24 (political science), marked the anniversary year by presenting research on the position last spring at the Center for Civic Learning & Action Celebration and during a Carlisle Borough Council Workshop. She also submitted survey responses from former student ambassadors to Dickinson’s archives and created a timeline to more broadly share what she’s learned.

A growing initiative

The student ambassador position grew out of broader initiatives set in motion by former President Bill Durden ’71 to strengthen the college’s connections with the broader community. Student Senate members worked with the borough council to create the role.

In 2006, Dickinson developed a “High I” partnership with Carlisle leaders, positioning the college as a downtown-revitalization leader; student ambassadors worked on High I initiatives. Through High I, the college developed a property at 25-27 W. High Street, now the Department of Theatre & Dance’s The Site, and began a downtown traffic study, leading to the creation of bike lanes in town. Carlisle Theatre revitalization efforts, the History on High shop and visitors’ center, and the Cumberland Valley Trails initiative also emerged from this town-gown partnership.

In 2009, as the Great Recession shuttered local businesses, Student Ambassador Corina Pehlman Castaneda ’10 worked on a proposal to stoke civic pride by placing locally created artworks in the windows of vacant downtown buildings. During the 2015-16 academic year, Maddie Granda ’18 became the first student ambassador to coordinate a community-based project through the position; her research focused on town-gown perceptions. Student research is now a central aspect of the position, connecting community leadership work to the academic experience.

In 2017, then President Margee Ensign led the formation of the Carlisle Community Action Network (CAN) to deepen cross-sector community and community-college collaborations. CAN laid groundwork for exceptional communication and cooperation during the COVID-19 era, and student ambassadors gained insight into real-time nonprofit and local government emergency response.

In the years since, student ambassadors have participated in conversations on climate action, systemic racism and the Carlisle Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as well as the pandemic. Fisher-Henson’s term coincided with the opening of Fairground Avenue Linear Park, post-pandemic community redevelopment efforts and the 20th anniversary of the student-ambassador position.

Carrying the torch

Fisher-Henson’s research project on the history of the position grew from a handful of surveys of past student ambassadors to a yearlong endeavor that included interviews with past and present local and college leaders. She says that, along with invaluable connections and future-ready experiences, she gained a new understanding of both her college and her community.

“Throughout the history of the Carlisle Borough Student Ambassador position, members of both the Dickinson and broader Carlisle communities have embodied a commitment to citizenship in the service of one another,” Fisher-Henson says, noting that this commitment echoes the service-focused mission of the college’s founder, Dr. Benjamin Rush.

“The moments contained in this timeline are just a handful of those that have characterized the relationship between our communities,” she continues. “However, they form a testament to our continued learning, innovation and shared vision.”


Published June 26, 2023