ANDERSON – Erin Smith is only a sophomore majoring in public relations at Anderson University, but she already is working on her first project: talking up the good life available to people who choose to settle in Anderson.
“It’s a great first project for me for sure," she said. "It's definitely something that I’m passionate about.”
Smith admits many of her high school classmates couldn’t wait to get out of town to attend Ball State University in Muncie or Indiana University in Bloomington. Many are likely to contribute further to a local brain drain by seeking employment elsewhere.
Smith, 20, also considered attending those universities.
“But then I started investigating Anderson University a little bit more, and kind of fell in love with the campus,” she said.
Many alumni from other states and communities, such as retired Judge Dennis Carroll and AU historian Merle Strege, were drawn to the offerings of the century-old university and made the decision to remain in Anderson after graduation.
In fact, Smith said, her own decision to remain in the community for college was solidified after talking to alumni she met who had made the decision to remain in Anderson.
As she plans her life after college, Smith is considering following in their footsteps and remaining in the community where she was born and raised.
“I’m probably biased because it is home, but I think it is a unique community,” she said. “I feel a lot of potential to the community. I know it has gone through a hard time recently.”
Smith said it’s important for her to invest in the rebuilding and growth of Anderson.
“I see beauty in pieces, and I want to find ways to put that back together,” she said.
Her deep loyalty to the city also is a reason why she is encouraging her classmates to remain after they graduate.
“Anderson is a unique, wonderful city that can definitely grow and be home to many incredible people and ideas,” she said.
Though they try to keep track of alumni individually, AU officials don’t keep track of where they live collectively.
However, Scott Tilley, director of Alumni Engagement, said about 235 of the traditional undergraduate students and 65 adult students enrolled at the university are from Madison County.
Several companies around town, including Element 212 and Community Hospital, have been known to employ graduates of AU. Element 212 made a video available on Facebook about its employees who are AU graduates, and Community Hospital has brought attention to this through billboard advertising.
“And, we also have some alums who have taken advantage of the AndersonNow grant, which encourages new start-up businesses in Madison County,” Tilley said.
Katie Mitchell, director of AU’s Center for Career and Calling, said anecdotally, she can confirm many job-seeking students who come to her office express a desire to remain in Anderson.
“Many do want to stay in the area, if an opportunity arises, but I don't have specific percentages,” she said.
Though the university does not break down the percentages by county, Mitchell said about 78 percent of AU graduates remain in Indiana.
AU students are seeking a stable income in comparison to cost of living, a variety of things to do outside of work, ways to impact their community and jobs or companies that make a difference, she said.
“I think it's extremely important for students to be more aware of the ways that the city of Anderson does meet those criteria," she said. "Having local businesses on campus, in classrooms, and involved in university partnerships are some easy ways to do that. Getting students off campus and in to the community is key.”
Anderson University appreciates opportunities to partner with local businesses that allow students to connect with internships, part-time jobs and full-time work opportunities, Mitchell said.
“Our office specifically would love to see more local businesses take advantage of our students in creating internship opportunities to help students develop professionally, gain experience, see the various industries represented within the region, and get invested in the local community,” she said. “Often times students are not even aware of the wonderful organizations right here in the city that offer full-time positions, but we would love to bridge that gap and get more local businesses involved on our university job board and in our on-campus recruiting efforts, career fairs, and within the classroom settings teaching or presenting on relevant topics.”