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Oct. 14, 2011
By Brittany Keithley, media relations assistant
When Collin DeBuysere voices his opinion at Maryville City Council meetings, he speaks for more than 7,200 students at Northwest Missouri State University.
As the council's first student liaison, DeBuysere, a senior marketing and management major from Geneseo, Ill., shares the University student perspective with the City Council. At Northwest, he also is a starting linebacker for the Bearcat football team and represents off-campus residents on the Student Senate.
"The City Council recognized that Maryville is kind of unique in that a lot of the population comes from the college, so they wanted to have representation from the college," DeBuysere said. "My job is to open up communication between what is going on in the city and what is happening on campus."
Last year, Maryville City Manager Matt LeCerf, then-Mayor Chad Jackson, and Dr. Matt Baker, Northwest's vice president of student affairs, introduced the idea of a student liaison to represent the University they attended a conference that focused on relationships between universities and communities.
After presenting the idea to Student Senate, several committees began developing the concept to present to City Council. In March, the City Council approved the position, and DeBuysere was appointed in May. He began attending the bi-monthly meetings to familiarize himself with the council and to fully understand its processes. Without a predecessor from whom he could take direction, DeBuysere worked closely with Baker to expand on the role he wanted to play and issues he wanted to emphasize.
"Our first goal was to increase communication between students and the city," Baker said. "Our students are a huge part of our community, and we wanted to not only make sure their voices were heard but also that the students would understand the issues in the city and how they impacted them."
With the start of the 2011-2012 school year, DeBuysere attends weekly Student Senate meetings as an off-campus representative. Understanding the needs of his off-campus constituents and listening to the feedback at Student Senate's meetings allows Debuysere to provide the City Council with well-rounded feedback.
Based on the feedback, he will develop a constituency report that provides a wider analysis of student responses. DeBuysere hopes he can tailor the questions to issues the council is addressing.
"Right now I am trying to get a constituency report that we send out to all of our student senators that asks, ‘What are some of the issues you're concerned about?' " DeBuysere said. "I'm trying to reach the point where council members can ask questions about the constituency report, and they can see some of the likes and dislikes students have."
Jackson, who now serves as a councilman for City Council, believes this type of feedback is essential and DeBuysere's role as a liaison has opened up the opportunity for the council to build on its relationship with the University.
"It's another communication input and output for the city as an organization," Jackson said. "When we are trying to make decisions, we want to know how our decisions affect the city. Collin, being on Student Senate, is trying to bring information from those meetings to share with us, but he's also taking information from our meetings and sharing it with the students to keep them informed."
Jackson added, "We have a good relationship with the Northwest Leadership Team, but what we can develop even further is reaching out to the student population. It's definitely more of a strategic role in achieving that."
As the City Council enhances the collaborative relationship between the city and University, it also looks to develop a 20-year comprehensive plan to grow Maryville. Working with a student liaison, the council can gather ideas of students' hopes for the city and ensure council members hear about the kind of community development students want.
"There have been multiple opportunities to gain feedback about how we want to develop the downtown area and zoning," Jackson said. "I know Collin brought some questions to get some input about what students think of the study as a whole in regard to restaurants, recreation opportunities and housing. He can send that to students so anyone can give their viewpoint and we can incorporate that data."
Understanding how the community works and how issues relate directly to the student population, DeBuysere is developing much more than communication.
"Whenever we have a liaison or student leader, they have the benefit of helping students but also growing themselves," Baker said. "Collin is a student leader on campus and an athlete. He gives a lot of his time and is a good fit for the role as he is a good representative for students. I am very impressed with how he is approaching the whole thing."
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
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Northwest Missouri State University
215 Administration Building | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468