The Working Relationship Between Notre Dame and South Bend

By Madison Riehle and Allie Hoerster

Before the University of Notre Dame’s economic and social influence gained traction, the city thrived off of the business and jobs created by the Studebaker automobile plant. At its height, the company employed 7,000 people, which was eight percent of South Bend in 1960, according to the Studebaker National Museum.

When the plant closed in 1963, both the population and the economy took a hit, with 20,000 residents leaving the city over 40 years, putting South Bend on Newsweek’s 2011 list of “America’s Dying Cities.”

The run-down Studebaker plant in southern South Bend. Credit: St. Joseph County Public Library.

Despite this, due to recent pushes and changes in South Bend’s government and the sustained effort of new Notre Dame programs, South Bend is transitioning.

“The city is growing and developing, it has some really positive areas.” said Jackie Burns Rucker, Associate Director of Community Relations for the University of Notre Dame. “It is a thriving community that has a large alumni population here, and has a really rich history.”

The city of South Bend and the University of Notre Dame are inextricably linked by a long-standing symbiotic relationship. As one of the largest enterprises in the St. Joseph County area, Notre Dame plays an integral role in the city’s economy, which makes community outreach initiatives and programs measures all the more important.


 Juxtapose: Take a look at the development of Eddy Street Commons over the last 14 years.


“There’s a symbiosis between the community and the University that we recognize more than ever, and I think communities around the country are recognizing this, so we talk a lot about the mutual benefit of our partnerships in a way that we can use our expertise on campus,” Jay Caponigro said, Director of Community Engagement in the Office of Public Affairs at the University of Notre Dame.

The Office of Public Affairs is just one of the ways that Notre Dame has involved itself in the community. Its goal is to build, maintain and support the community of South Bend by engaging Notre Dame students with city residents. The projects that the Office of Public Affairs executes revolve around the education and enrichment of South Bend children.


StoryMap: Look into some of the volunteer initiatives and outreach programs Notre Dame is involved with in South Bend.


“Our after-school program is very diverse—we will host events here at the center, and we have an after school program that is 2nd through 4th grade,” Rucker said about the Center for Arts and Culture. “Within the after-school program, the first hour is literacy based and the second hour is arts and culture enrichment. I utilize art and culture to try to help build relationships.”

The Center for Arts and Culture is just one of the many sites that Notre Dame students and faculty invest their time. More than 945,850 hours of community service work is performed by more than 2,250 Notre Dame students and more than 360 University faculty and staff during the 2014-15 academic year, according to a 2016 economic survey of Notre Dame.

Center for Arts and Culture in West South Bend, which is home to a multi-purpose room for after-school programs and an art gallery. Credit: Madison Riehle.

Similarly, academic courses engage students with the local community through entrepreneurship opportunities and funds, as well as community-based research, which is run by the Center for Social Concerns and includes an out-of-classroom service element.

“With the community-based research, you see a lot of Catholic social teaching coming up as part of the justification for getting involved in those projects,” Caitlin Hodges, Notre Dame Student Government Director of Community Relations, said. “That’s the language you’ll see replicated at just about every level of Notre Dame when they are doing something like that.”

This kind of engagement is understood as growth in human capital — and is the most important factor for economic growth, as it leads to higher educational levels and future funds.

Aside from time investments, Notre Dame is the leading employer in the South Bend area, employing around 5,700 South Bend residents. In fiscal year 2015, the University spent nearly $168.5 million on purchases of goods and services, excluding construction, from businesses in St. Joseph County, according to a report on a 2016 economic survey of Notre Dame.


 Bubbli: Step into South Bend’s Southeast Neighborhood.


“We know that we have to have infrastructure locally that will attract people to come to Notre Dame,” Caponigro said. “We want to make sure there are learning opportunities in the community, not just on the University campus.”

Notre Dame also focuses its community efforts on maintaining the overall look of the community, as well as ensuring that student housing does not override affordable housing in the neighboring areas.

This includes the Northeast Neighborhood Revitalization Organization, which aims to build residential housing off of Eddy Street Commons through in the Triangle Residential District. Notre Dame is also making strides to maintain housing through the Notre Dame Avenue Housing Project.

Current construction on the homes and street on Notre Dame Avenue. Credit: Madison Riehle.

“I think that’s a big conversation right now with gentrification,” Hodges said. “what happens when so many students are moving off-campus, and there’s a really good market and that’s how you’re going to make money, but that used to be a house where a family could have afforded to live. It’s not good or bad, but it’s balancing and sometimes it feels like it’s not very well-balanced.”

Through this kind of mutually beneficial relationship, the city of South Bend has grown, both in population as well as technology as the city’s population is up for the first time since 2000. Along with this, projects like Innovation and Ignition Park have begun to expose the area to new creative solutions to city problems, as well as provide support for student and local entrepreneurs.

“At the end of the day, it’s important for our leadership at multiple levels,” Caponigro said. “If our community doesn’t succeed, Notre Dame will not succeed — not at the level that we want to.”

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