5 Minutes with… Andrea Swan, director of Temple’s Office of Community Relations
Temple University's Office of Community Relations offers a variety of resources for students and the North Philadelphia community.
We sat down with Andrea Swan, the director of Temple University’s Office of Community Relations, which is a department that engages the community through volunteerism, hosting and partnering with community organizations, and is a gateway to resources for North Philadelphia neighbors and Temple students. Swan, KLN ’98, CLA ’11, EDU ’18, brings more than 25 years of experience in community relations to her role at Temple. Here she shares with us a wealth of knowledge about her department and some of her proudest moments.
Nutshell: What is the purpose of Temple Community Relations?
Andrea Swan: Higher education is the number one reason why we exist, so in addition to sharing information about Temple’s baccalaureate programs with the surrounding community, we share information about our adult enrichment, education and youth programs. It is done with the hope that we’re empowering and encouraging folks to become better versions of themselves. Of course, we want them to seek higher education at some point—preferably at Temple.
We are surrounded by many nonprofits in North Central Philadelphia, so we connect neighbors and students to service and volunteer opportunities, and to the appropriate nonprofits and Temple schools and colleges so that they can achieve their goals.
Nutshell: What are your main responsibilities?
AS: I consider myself a Temple ambassador who connects the university to our external stakeholders. For example, we work with area schools to help our young neighbors see Temple as a place that they can attend in the future. We help students with resources like school supplies, laptops tutoring and other services.
Toward the end of each academic year, I plan opportunities for Temple students to visit schools and recreation centers to share information about their majors and to offer tips on how children and youth can prepare to enter high school and college. We have hosted parent-teacher nights at schools, providing SWAG (stuff we all get), and information on a variety of Temple programs.
I also meet regularly with representatives of residential associations that are located in North Philadelphia, such as Yorktown, Jefferson Manor, People’s Village and other groups. I share information about our programming, handle neighborhood concerns, and try to support our neighbors as they plan and implement their projects.
Nutshell: What type of events does Temple Community Relations host?
AS: We host programs through PASCEP (Pan African Studies Community Education Program), which encourages participants to take part in life skills, financial literacy and other classes. I am currently recruiting Temple students to support the DREAM Program, which allows them to mentor our young neighbors for an hour a week.
We partner with our student group, Big Brothers Big Sisters, which mentors youth in our schools in nearby North Philly ZIP codes.
We have hosted in-person workshops for adults and other guests. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, we moved these workshops to a virtual platform.
We also partner with Temple Athletics, providing tickets to encourage families to come to games. It’s a way of giving back to our young neighbors, with the hope that they begin to see our Temple students as older versions of themselves and that will inspire them to experience Temple firsthand.
Nutshell: What scholarship programs does Temple Community Relations connect students to?
AS: I work closely with Admissions on the Temple 20/20 scholarship (a scholarship program awarded to qualifying incoming students in the four ZIP codes surrounding Main Campus—19121, 19122, 19132 and 19133) and speak with alumni from that scholarship who want to connect with North Philly residents about scholarship opportunities.
Nutshell: What advice would you give a prospective student interested in a scholarship program?
AS: They should visit Temple’s Student Financial Services (SFS) website because that will connect them to the different merit scholarships and other forms of financial aid. Our schools and colleges often have scholarships and prizes for students enrolled in their programs. There is also a fabulous team in SFS’s offices in Conwell Hall who they can connect with.
I also encourage prospective students to do research and reach out to their guidance counselors for assistance. Prospective students should also review scholarship sites, contests and any other opportunities that provide funding for school.
Nutshell: What are some Community Relations programs that you want Temple students to know about?
AS: Since 1975, PASCEP has offered free or low-cost adult enrichment programming, including line dancing, sewing and hair braiding classes to name a few. Students can take a holistic health class, Sick of Being Sick, where they learn about how natural herbs can help them stay fit and healthy. So we provide special interest classes that our students can participate in to provide another outlet for learning. Volunteers have been the heart and soul of PASCEP, so if a student wants to teach a class that is always welcomed.
I serve as an advisor for four student organizations: Big Brothers/Big Sisters, the National Council of Negro Women, Inc., Temple University Community Service Association and Random Acts of Kindness. Students are welcome to join these organizations and to work directly with our office.
Nutshell: What motivates or inspires you to do your job?
AS: Seeing our young people go to college and succeed inspires me. I am a first generation college grad myself. My parents did not go to college. However, most of my mother’s siblings have advanced degrees. I saw the disparity between our family’s socioeconomic status and my cousins’. So when I’m visiting with our young neighbors, I stress how Temple is attainable and affordable. I tell them that they can be Owls. We connect our friends to Temple by any means necessary. I love planning service opportunities where our students get to work side by side with our young neighbors in the neighborhoods surrounding Temple. This encourages conversation and I hope it inspires children and youth to consider Temple. I’m passionate about showing Temple to our North Philly kids.
Nutshell: What do you want Temple students to know about the North Philadelphia community?
AS: I encourage our Temple students to see more of North Philadelphia for all of the richness and historical context that it brings. Many amazing things in this city happened in North Philly.
We have the Dox Thrash House, which I don’t think is even a mile away from my office right now. Dox Thrash was a leading 20th century artist who happened to be African American. He had a very unique form of art: he was a sculptor, a wood cutter. His work was displayed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. There was a strong possibility his house would have been torn down and something else would have been built in its place, but Beech Community Services actually acquired his house a few months ago.
I want our students to know while they’re here for four years that they are in the North Philadelphia community. As students they’re expected to serve as ambassadors of Temple and to give back to the community and to represent us to the best of their abilities, so I try to introduce students to more than just our campus.
Nutshell: What is your most memorable moment or proudest achievement in this role?
AS: I met a woman who dropped out of Temple because she failed economics and it just broke her heart. She felt that she was never going to come back to Temple and finish her degree.
At this time, this lady was middle aged, and her own children were preparing for college. I told her about my own personal experiences, reminding her that Temple started as a school for adults, so she agreed to give me her number. I spoke to the college that she originally was enrolled in and they agreed to accept her.
She graduated from Temple and ended up working for the School District of Philadelphia. This was one of the proudest moments of my life because I know firsthand how getting a college degree changed my life. This woman achieved her goals and inspired her children to follow in her footsteps. It made a big difference.
Nutshell: What are you looking forward to doing in the future in your role?
AS: More programming for our youth. Once we are permitted to hold in-person events, I look forward to continuing my work with schools and recreation centers to plan projects where Temple students and our young neighbors get to meet and learn from each other.
Nutshell: How can Temple students get involved with volunteering (donating) in the community?
AS: For the holidays, we offer various volunteer opportunities. For example, at Thanksgiving, we hosted turkey drives with Berean Presbyterian Church and Temple Police. Also, students who wish to donate books or clothes can let me know. We work with clothing pantries and nonprofit organizations like TreeHouse Books that provide books to children and adults. I also normally plan several projects to celebrate the MLK Day of Service and the legacy of Dr. King.
The annual Philly Spring Cleanup takes place in April. I’m excited that we will be collaborating with Temple’s Office of Sustainability this year. We’ll have a small team of volunteers in keeping with COVID-19 guidelines.
Nutshell: How can students contact Community Relations?
AS: If a student is interested in learning about Temple’s Office of Community Relations they can call our main number at 215-204-7913 and are welcome to email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.