MURRAY — For the past few months, officials with both Murray State University and members of the Downtown Revitalization Committee of the City of Murray have been in talks about finding ways to keep more Murray State graduates in Murray once they graduate.
It now appears that the plan is moving into its next phase, which will include Murray State students themselves giving their thoughts as part of focus groups. The plan began being circulated as the committee was meeting Thursday afternoon and it appears interest is high.
“I’m excited to say that, from the information we sent out earlier (in the day), students are already responding and signing up to be part of this focus group,” said Murray State Director of Alumni Relations Carrie McGinnis, who attended Thursday’s meeting with Carol Brunn, director of the Town & Gown program that blends the university with 40-or-so partners from the Murray business community. “This is an opportunity for the students to have a voice, and that is what we are finding that they really want.
“They want to be at the table and be heard, and when you say to them, ‘Here is an opportunity for you to be heard at that table and have a lasting impact on the City of Murray and future generations of students on our short-term planning and our long-term planning’ – they’re invigorated and they’re excited about that and I think they want to participate.”
Brunn also said this survey will look to obtain opinions from graduating seniors of Calloway County and Murray high schools.
When the committee last discussed GeneratIon Z in November, attending that meeting was Melissa Halsell, program manager with the economic development program of the Tennessee Valley Authority, whose responsibilities with the multi-state utility include consulting and assisting communities covered by TVA with retail development attraction and retention strategies.
Halsell’s next appearance in Murray will probably come in March. Before that, though, Brunn told the committee that a conference call is scheduled for sometime Tuesday, where the survey that will be used for the focus group will be discussed. Brunn said Halsell’s services are made possible from proceeds of the periodic Town & Gown President’s Breakfast.
“So I can take that money and turn around and use it for the community and to bring those two entities (the university and city businesses) together,” Brunn said. “The survey we are going to put together I think is going to be very simple, just six to 10 questions long and for targeted groups.
“For instance, we’ll be talking to Calloway and Murray students to find out what would attract them to downtown, but we also grew that a bit to include Murray as a whole, not just downtown.”
Murray resident Terry Little has also been in on the discussions and has offered suggestions for this project. However, he was unable to attend Thursday’s meeting.
McGinnis said the focus group plan will be executed in two to three parts.
“We’ll have a survey that can be done online, but we’ll also have an ad in (The Ledger & Times) and in the (The Murray State News), as well as intercampus channels to get our young people to fill that out. We’ll also be getting together the focus group in person and that group will represent student organizations on campus, from the (Student Government Association) to Greeks to athletics to the Black Student Council to the International Students Association and everything in between,” she said. “This is so we can get a nice diverse group of students, including commuters, as well as students with disabilities, just all types of students around the table so we can have this discussion.”
“We’re also going to take creative focus groups to each high school and we’ll visit those individually to touch base with those seniors,” Brunn said. “You know, they’re here so we want to find out what’s going to get them to Murray State, which is a recruitment tool there, but we’re also looking for what can keep them in Murray and beyond.”
From there, Brunn said the mission will be to transfer that information to Halsell and perhaps bring her to a future President’s Breakfast, where the information obtained in the focus groups will be taken to a much larger group. She said this breakfast is usually restricted to just Town & Gown members, but with this issue being more community based, she said not only would this probably be opened to the community in general, it also will probably require an expanded time frame for the meeting, going from its usual hour-long format to about 90 minutes.
Committee chair Pat Seiber also recalled a conversation she had with a current Murray State student a few days ago, where the student was interviewing Seiber for a story on the recent installation of speed tables on North 16th Street. While the subject itself had very little to do with the matter at hand Thursday, Seiber said the conversation did eventually go in a different direction.
“I asked her, ‘Well, how do you like the speed tables?’ She said, ‘I really don’t know. I don’t ever drive down 16th Street,’” Seiber recalled. “That made my mouth fall open but, as somebody explained to me later, there’s really no reason for students to drive down 16th Street because there’s no student parking immediately off of it. So you have to stop and think that these thousands of students at Murray State are basically contained in that bubble on the campus, either by choice or by the way things play out with retail or whatever, it just gave me a little different perspective.”
“Hopefully, this survey will allow students to see that there’s more than just that bubble,” Brunn said. “There’s more to this experience than just Chick Fil-A that just opened inside the Curris Center. We’ve got other things to offer.”