Many have said Middle Tennessee State University is essentially a small town all its own.
It certainly is big enough to be a small town. With some 25,000 students enrolled and more than 2,000 faculty and staff members, it is a semiautonomous village all its own.
However, it is and always has been an integral part of the larger community. The university’s partnerships with groups in Rutherford County and far beyond enhance the quality of life for all involved.
That makes the Community Assessment Project under the guidance of the Center for Organizational and Human Resources Effectiveness so intriguing.
A mammoth project initiated last year, the CAP is a comprehensive assessment of all aspects of life in Rutherford County.
The goal is to find out what issues concern citizens the most, whether they come from the upper echelons of government and business, the farms and rural estates, or the homeowners who live in your neighborhood.
The subject matter is expected to include business, government, education, human services, safety and security and health care – anything that concerns Rutherford County residents.
“What we’ll have in a year is a very extensive, comprehensive report,” said Beverly Burke, an associate professor of psychology who is working on the project for center.
Not only will key leaders be interviewed, but focus groups and larger forums are on the drawing board as well.
The center is uniquely positioned to work on the project because the discipline of industrial and organizational psychology is the basis of its work. Both displines are all about managing information in order to manage organizational change.
To prove this report will not just gather dust on a shelf somewhere, project leaders cite the real change brought about when the University of Georgia undertook a similar assessment.
The powers that be in Columbus, Ga., could not figure out why there was such heavy turnover among their teachers, police officers and firefighters. Many of them would leave for greener pastures two years after taking jobs in Columbus.
After reading the assessment, they learned that there was a crucial need for more affordable housing in their city.
Then they consulted real estate agents and developers to find areas of the city where more affordable housing could be built.
They also started negotiating with local banks about offering low-cost loans to help teachers, police officers and firefighters buy houses.
The city fathers and mothers of Columbus also found out from the assessment that homeless people who did not stay in shelters were getting ill at an alarming rate.
In order to solve this problem, shower areas were created in the shelter so that the homeless would go there to take care of their hygiene needs.
Cleaner people have fewer infections. Fewer infections result in fewer homeless people at the hospital. Fewer homeless people at the hospital result in not only healthier people, but a lower indigent care costs.
Not only will the assessment target areas in which the county can improve, it could show the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce more ways to promote the county.