Connect Cleveland Expands Programming


Meg Parker

Hanne Williams-Baron at the Cleveland Museum of Art with Connect Cleveland.

Oberlin students visited Cleveland’s University Circle neighborhood last weekend to engage with the city through a free bus trip provided by the College. This trip was an expansion of the new Connect Cleveland initiative, founded in fall 2018 as part of Oberlin’s first-year orientation.

“We created Connect Cleveland in response to the desire among current and prospective students to have internships, work opportunities, and recreational possibilities in a more urban environment,” President Carmen Twillie Ambar wrote in an email to the Review. “It also addresses prospective students’ perceptions that our location is too remote or rural.”

Director of Student Conduct and Community Standards and Assistant Dean of Students Thom Julian, who is also a member of the Connect Cleveland Student Life Committee, noted that the orientation trip to Cleveland this past fall was met with overwhelmingly positive feedback from first-year participants, as well as requests from upperclass students that the College lead additional student trips throughout the school year.

President Ambar also commented on the success of the first-year orientation trip.

“Having our first-year students go for a day of service and/or experiential learning at local organizations and companies ranging from the Cleveland Museum of Art and PNC Bank to an inner-city community garden is a great way to introduce them to a range of possibilities for social engagement, internships, employment, and recreation,” President Ambar wrote in an email to the Review. “While I’m proud of how engaged our College community is with the city of Oberlin and Lorain County, I think Connect Cleveland literally expands our students’ horizons by providing access to an urban experience and all that entails.”

Julian mentioned that the trips help address a number of concerns beyond simply entertainment.

“When you look at the admissions data … location was a big factor in students not wanting to come to Oberlin,” Julian said. “A lot of our students come from more urban areas, and they need that kind of exposure. … This is an opportunity for us to connect socially, in order to keep students happier here at Oberlin.”

Julian hopes that Connect Cleveland will increase enrollment and retention while also encouraging Oberlin graduates to stay in the Cleveland area.

“I think by getting us out there more, it puts [Oberlin] in the public consciousness as a Cleveland-area school,” Julian said.

College junior Miya Wang and College first-year Serena Zets both explored University Circle during the recent day trip.

Wang was drawn to the program for the Cleveland Botanical Gardens and chance to get bubble tea. She hopes the program will expand to include multiple drop-off and pick-up times so students have more agency in choosing the length of their visit.

Wang explained that getting to Cleveland is not accessible for all students, as many Oberlin students don’t have vehicles on campus, and that this program helps address those transportation concerns. Further, events and trips sponsored by Connect Cleveland are often free and scheduled well in advance.

During the trip, Zets enjoyed foods that she cannot find on campus.

“I went with the intention of getting bubble tea and Indian food, two things I’ve struggled to find in Oberlin,” she said. “On my way to get bubble tea in the Circle, I randomly ran into an old friend who attends Case Western [Reserve University], and we spent the afternoon exploring the neighborhood.”

Julian emphasized that such experiences can be valuable for students.

“I think there’s something unique about a college student just getting to explore some place for five hours completely on their own and really pick their own adventure,” Julian said. “[For future trips] we’ve been looking at a lot of neighborhoods. … I want more students to become more involved.”

Students are already looking forward to another trip on March 9, this time to Asia Plaza.

“I love the Asian market,” Wang said. “My main purpose for now is to have a lunch and then do some grocery shopping.”

Any questions or feedback about Connect Cleveland can be directed to Thom Julian, Director of Orientation and Student Activities Tina Zwegat, or Assistant Dean of Business and Operations Jessica Bayer-Crissman.