Environmental Sciences major and Golden LEAF Scholar Chase Conner spent his summer giving back to his hometown community in Williamston, N.C. Supported by the College of Natural Resources Student Assistance and Enrichment Fund, Conner created and directed the Martin County Main Street Market each week, bringing together local vendors and community members to foster a better sense of community in the rural area. He also put his minors in Biology and Extension Education to work at the STEM Booth he created to promote science education through hands-on activities. Back at NC State, Conner is a College of Natural Resources Student Senator, serving on the committees for Student Relations and On-boarding and Leadership Development. Check out his hands-on summer experience in community and relationship building.
Tell us about your experience.
The Martin County Main Street Market is a community/farmers’ market that welcomes local farmers, small businesses, non-profits, community clubs and at-home businesses to join us and set up a booth to sell goods or promote their organization. Along with local vendors, we have musical entertainment each market and fun activities for the kids. Among the activities, we had a booth at each Market that focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and the environment. Exhibit topics included: sustainable farming, above-ground gardening, water catchment systems, physics of catapults, moon phases, renewable resources and energy, and the 2017 solar eclipse. Our community festival was filled with music, socializing, shopping and fun.
Our main goals for the Main Street Market were to increase community involvement, increase awareness of new and small businesses, and to create an atmosphere for economic advancement for our county. At each Market, we averaged about 200 people in attendance and continued growing. Our Facebook page had 305 likes/follows and is also continually growing! For a small town and first year event, I feel that the community support was amazing!
How did this experience impact you?
This experience impacted me on many levels. Professionally, it allowed me to meet many local leaders and form connections with organizations within my county. It gave me experience in management, public speaking, finance, economic development and community outreach efforts. I raised and managed a budget of around $2,500.00. Applying for grants and partnering with many businesses and organizations gave me useful experience that I can use in my future career. It was also a very humbling experience. Seeing what I can do to impact the community with this project really inspired me to develop more events. At the end of the summer, I received an award for my community activism. I told them that I never created the Market for resume building or recognition, but to actually give back and grow a community that gave so much to me as a child.
How has this opportunity prepared you for your future career?
Managing the Main Street Market has given me useful experience to use in my future career. I hope to go into education and work alongside rural communities to help in economically distressed regions. My hope is to work in local government as well, so that I can help manage resources and better my community.
How did this opportunity enhance your experience as a College of Natural Resources (CNR) student?
Putting together the STEM and environmental lessons was very fun. I enjoyed creating lesson plans and building booths for the Market. I used much of the knowledge I gained from classes at NC State
Why was participating in this experience important to you?
This experience was important to me because I am tired of hearing youth say, “I am tired of this town” or “There is nothing to do.” I put it upon myself to have more activities and events that the community would like to attend. Community interaction is key for rural towns. For growth to occur, people have to invest time and support their community. My hope is to help develop the Downtown community and to encourage new and small businesses to open in Martin County.
What did you enjoy most about your experience?
I enjoyed seeing the community reaction to the Market. I never expected such a large and positive response from my community. Knowing that I created something that the community enjoyed was such an impactful experience.
What did you find most challenging?
Dealing with the public and small businesses relying on the success of my Market was very stressful. For vendors to return, the Market had to be successful and show growth. I worked around the clock to ensure I advertised and communicated with everyone involved. Dealing with many different opinions and situations from vendors was difficult, but in the end, it all worked out. All experiences have challenges, you just have to have the mentality of one step back, two steps forward.
What did you learn about yourself during your experience?
I have learned when I put my mind to something, I give 110 percent. I really wanted the Main Street Market to be successful and I worked 300+ hours during the summer to make my idea a reality. I also learned that one person can make a difference and that my community does truly support me in everything I do.
Why would you recommend this experience to other students?
I recommend starting your own organizations and running events to benefit your home community. You get to learn so much more in leadership positions and it is a great feeling when you are giving back to your home community who helped make you the person you are today.
Any advice to incoming students?
I would highly recommend a major in Environmental Science. This major gives you flexibility and allows you to learn more in-depth about subjects you enjoy. I knew I enjoyed science and the environment and with the help from my advisor, I decided to pursue a focal area in education. Your focal area allows you to work toward a minor as well. Not many majors on campus allow you to gain experience and take classes outside your major courses that you are interested in. I am currently majoring in Environmental Science with minors in Biology and Extension Education.
What do you enjoy most about being a CNR student?
I enjoy the small-town feel of our college. I feel even though we are small, we all have a big voice. Through our experiences and learning, CNR students are more prepared for careers. Also, I feel the advisors and professors in our college are the best at NC State. They are passionate and willing to help students advance and learn together to b