College of the Redwoods


Humboldt State University

College Matters | Showing up does make a difference

This article was originally posted in the College Matters column of the Times-Standard.

Thursday, March 2, 2023 - 1:30pm

A colleague a number of years ago shared with me a short story. He was a retired banker. He said that early in his career he accepted a small bank manager position. When compared to other larger banks, his bank had very few accounts, very little branding, and was often overlooked.

He shared what he did about it to generate more business. What did he do? He started showing up to events and community activities. At first, he would have a small booth and simply show materials about his bank. A few people would come to him but few actually switched banks. As he attended more functions and activities, more and more people within the community would see him and carry on conversations. They liked his effort to introduce his bank to them, and became interested. More and more people began to switch, and his bank eventually grew into one of the more profitable and well-regarded banks in the region. He retired a number of years ago very successfully.

He showed up, and it made a difference. It made a big difference.

This is well-accepted and common wisdom. You hear people say, “showing up is half the battle,” while Woody Allen tells us that “80% of success is showing up.”

At Cal Poly Humboldt, we have embraced this idea in a serious way in recent years, even when pandemic rules made it tough. We have been showing up more than ever at community activities and events — including fairs, rodeos, street festivals, and more. You’ll see tables with Cal Poly Humboldt staff and faculty, as well as occasional alumni, at the celebrations and fundraisers of local nonprofits. We have designated representatives at the various Chambers of Commerce in our region, and often have multiple university representatives attending their monthly socials. While local organizations have always had members from the university, we have made a concerted effort to recruit even more people to take this on.

This is community outreach at its best. On the one hand, it generates the simple goodwill and visibility that a large organization should seek in its community. On the other hand, it opens us up to new ideas, opportunities, and partnerships. It’s a way for the team at Humboldt to step outside their usual locations and groups and be available for different members of the community to get to know them and bring up new ideas. Ultimately — from great opportunities to big problems — this makes it more likely we’ll start from a place of general trust and be able to work effectively together.

I can also tell you this: We’re just getting started. So you’ll continue to see us in the spaces where we’ve been showing up. You’ll also see us appearing in others, both in person and in promotional activities.

For example, we have plans in the works to dramatically expand our involvement in community parades up and down the North Coast and over to the Redding area. The Marching Lumberjacks have done an amazing job with this for a long time, and in coming years we will add decorated vehicles and floats. These are fun hands-on learning activities for students that I look forward to us adopting.

We will also be joining chambers in additional areas where communities want to see us present and where students are interested in what we have to offer. That means Del Norte County, Mendocino County, and the communities along state Route 299 including Redding.

In addition, we will be looking for high-visibility opportunities for advertising. You may have noticed that Cal Poly Humboldt now “owns” the space at the end of every article in the Lost Coast Outpost, which is an important virtual billboard in our community. We will soon be establishing a strong non-virtual presence at Humboldt County’s airport as well as the airport in Redding. Finally, not to miss an obvious one, we will be enhancing the visibility of the branding for our off-campus facilities including the Aquatic Center in Eureka and the Telonicher Marine Lab in Trinidad.

When you go out in the community and to many natural spaces on the North Coast, you often see the impact of Cal Poly Humboldt. You just often don’t realize it, and that means the university can seem more distant and separated than it really is. We’re working to change that. In the coming years, I hope you 1) notice our presence more, 2) start to think it’s almost silly how much you see us represented, and then 3) reach a point where our presence is expected and practically boring.

Be well.

Dr. Tom Jackson Jr. is the president of Cal Poly Humboldt.