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Mayor's letter welcomes first-year students

BY ALISON CRISSMAN | JUNE 19, 2013 5:00 AM

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Since the beginning of the month, thousands of discrete letters have been signed, sealed, and delivered to the nearly 4,500 incoming University of Iowa freshmen and their families.

For Mayor Matt Hayek, the initiative is just one piece in the city’s 2013 strategic plan aimed at improving communication with residents.

Costing the city $2,000 for postage, printing, and packing, Hayek, along with a number of city officials, are counting on the traditional delivery system to spark interest among the soon-to-be Iowa City residents and their families.

“It allows us to remind them that they’re not only part of the university but of the community as a whole,” Hayek said.

Adam Bentley, the administrative assistant to the city manager, said that although many students only call Iowa City home for eight months out of the year, their acceptance is just as important as for longtime residents.

“… New students are going to be a part of our community for at least the duration of their time at the university,” Bentley said. “We want to make sure we welcome them and let them know that this is a community that accepts students and is excited to have them here.”

The letter comes at a time when some students say they have felt a disconnect of sorts between campus life and the complete offerings of Iowa City.

UI junior Danielle Healy said she thought that incoming students would greatly benefit from the letter and the sense of inclusiveness.

“Before I came to Iowa City, I didn’t really know what downtown had to offer,” she said. “When I came to Orientation and saw the city and downtown, I got more excited to come here … I think the letter can really help make that evident before students arrive here.”

But despite her positive remarks, she said further improvements can be made through the aid of UI admissions counselors, expanded social-media efforts by the city and UI, and more frequent distribution of letters informing residents of current happenings.

Among the strengths outlined in the letter, Hayek said the city has one of the most distinctive business districts in the country.

“It can be hard to know where to spend your money for marketing efforts, and when the city is willing to promote us [downtown businesses], I think it’s awesome,” Phil Young, a manager at Running Wild, 121 E. Washington St.

But the idea for the letter was not exclusive to city officials.

Bentley said the idea stemmed from a similar letter that is sent on an annual basis by Iowa State University to its incoming students.

And the existence of the Partnership for Alcohol Safety, a joint committee between the UI and Iowa City officials, may leave many wondering if the letter is part of an effort to encourage nonalcohol-related activities in downtown Iowa City among students, but Bentley said this is not a related effort.

Although the venues and city amenities may change from one year to the next, he said, the goal of the program will continue remain the same.

Hayek said ultimately, the letter is meant to serve as an additional city service similar to police protection, apartment rental inspection, parking, and garbage and recycling removal. He said he encourages students to contact the city with needs and concerns as they arise.

“[The letter] demonstrates that the university is very valued in the city of Iowa City and the downtown district,” said Nancy Bird, the executive director of the Iowa City Downtown District. “Students are part of the community for the time they are here, and it’s important for parents to know that we’ve got great resources and welcome them in the community.”


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