New JMU Center Seeks To Help Community

Posted: June 17, 2014

HARRISONBURG — A new center at James Madison University will put students and faculty at the service of community groups and government organizations looking for a little extra help.

The Madison Center for Community Development serves as a way to connect community interests with those of students, faculty and staff who would benefit from those relationships.

It opened last month in the new Ice House multiuse complex on Bruce Street and is an expanded version of the former Partners in Community Leadership Program.

Partners in Community Leadership was geared specifically toward students in the master’s in public administration program, who would take on projects and jobs that gave them a real world experience.

Nick Swartz, director of both the center and master’s program, said projects could vary from data analysis to assisting with grant-writing.

Anyone is welcome to approach the center with projects or problems to solve — municipal government officials, business owners, nonprofit organizations or school administrators, for example.

“How can we help the community, and …  how can the community help us?” Swartz said.

He said he sees the surrounding community as a type of laboratory for students.

Past projects gave students valuable experience that helped them after graduation, Swartz said, using former student Courtland Robinson as an example.

Robinson graduated in May from the master’s in public administration program, and he is now assistant director of economic development for the city of Staunton.

While attending JMU, Robinson had an internship at Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport.

“When you’re studying something and turn around and apply it, it’s a huge difference from learning theory all day long and not actually getting to work alongside practitioners,” Robinson said.

During the next several months, Swartz will be assisting the Harrisonburg Education Foundation with its strategic planning efforts.

Previously, grad students worked with the Elkton Police Department and assessed parking needs in downtown Harrisonburg.

The center, though, will incorporate students and faculty from all over campus, instead of being restricted to graduate students.

Individuals or organizations can seek assistance from the center in five different ways: employing graduate students part-time; hiring students as interns; faculty-led consulting; integrating projects into graduate and undergraduate coursework; and specialized training.

Swartz said the center provides a good opportunity to create bridges between the community and the school, especially since it is located in downtown.

“There’s a perceived barrier between the community and JMU,” he said. “Having the center placed directly in the community — the doors are open. It’s going to be much easier for organizations to come to this office than on campus, where parking is a lot easier over here.”

For questions about the center or to propose a project, contact Swartz at

Contact Kassondra Cloos at 574-6290 or

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