In 2009, Wagner College signed a five-year agreement with organizations serving a single neighborhood in Staten Island, thus inaugurating the Port Richmond Partnership. The idea was to connect Wagner students and faculty to this community, giving students hands-on learning opportunities while also building long-term relationships that would benefit Port Richmond in a deep and sustainable way.
Ten years later, these relationships are still growing and thriving, positive changes are happening, and the partnership continues to evolve with new approaches and possibilities.
Wagner is working with St. John’s University and the College of Staten Island to increase by 30,000 the number of degrees earned by Staten Islanders.
The Port Richmond Partnership focuses on school improvement, economic growth, health care enhancement, and immigration reform. The Center for Leadership and Community Engagement is the hub for Wagner activity that feeds the partnership. Arlette Cepeda serves as the CLCE director, while English professor Alison Arant was recently appointed as its faculty director. Sarah Scott, dean of integrated learning, oversees the center.
“In the coming year, we will be developing new projects and initiatives, and broadening our reach in the Staten Island community,” says Scott. “We will also be focused on engaging even more faculty and students in the partnership.”
The 2019 IMPACT Summit and Civic Engagement Recognition Day, held in April, celebrated the Port Richmond Partnership’s 10th anniversary.
“Few institutions have been so focused and intentional to achieve measurable results on communities and in students,” said keynote speaker Barbara A. Holland, a prominent advocate of community engagement in higher education. “Wagner College is recognized widely as a leader in this field.”
Throughout the day, students and faculty from Wagner and other local colleges, as well as community members, gave presentations about their work on improving education, economic development, health concerns, gender and race discrimination, and other issues faced by Port Richmond and the rest of Staten Island.
‘You guys are bringing the light back on Port Richmond.’
One session, for example, showcased the film project Conversations on the Avenue. Kathleen Sforza, economic and community development coordinator with the Northfield Community Local Development Corporation, reached out to Wagner for help with showcasing the neighborhood’s strengths and assets. Philip Cartelli, assistant professor of film, assigned his students to produce short documentary films with interviews of Port Richmond business owners and community leaders. These films are featured on the Discover Port Richmond website.
“It fulfilled a need I had, and it was a great learning experience for the students,” Sforza said.
“People say that Port Richmond is a bad neighborhood, but it’s not. You guys are bringing the light back on Port Richmond,” said Yareli Lazaro, a member of the La Colmena workers cooperative, another Port Richmond organization in the partnership.
The Port Richmond Partnership has developed a strong focus on schools, promoting college readiness and civic engagement among local students from elementary through high school. Wagner has established leadership academies within three schools — PS 21, IS 51, and Port Richmond High School — where these students are mentored by Wagner students, faculty, and staff.
“IS 51 is really positively impacted by the relationship it has with Wagner College,” says Principal Nick Mele. “The staff and students of Wagner College interact with my students, and that makes college into something they think is attainable.”