“If everyone is moving forward together,” noted Henry Ford, “then success takes care of itself.”
Ford’s theory is the very motto of collaboration and the practice of the Barnes & Noble at Mississippi State Bookstore, the school’s administration and, ultimately, its community. “We’ve really appreciated the partnership with the bookstore,” says Meggan Franks, assistant director of the Office of Student Leadership & Community Engagement at Mississippi State University in Starkville. A former bookstore employee, Franks joined the university’s administration after completing her MBA there, bringing with her business literacy, bookstore experience and uncontained school spirit. “I learned a lot at Barnes & Noble College—so much that I still refer to what I learned there when it comes to customer service,” she states. “There are components of those skills in every job.”
Another thing she mastered is an understanding that the bookstore can be a viable partner in elevating the campus experience. As director of Mississippi State’s Maroon Volunteer Center (MVC), she’s turned to the bookstore again and again to host and facilitate programs at a university where volunteering is ingrained in the campus culture from day one.
During the initial week of school, Mississippi State’s Service DAWGS (Donate a Wonderful Gift of Service) draws some 500 freshmen volunteers who head out to 40 local sites to offer their services for the day. “It’s part of the orientation experience, getting new students into the practice of being on campus and involved in the community,” explains Bud Sorey, the bookstore’s special events manager. “Not only is it great for students who get to meet new people, but it’s terrific for the community as the students pull weeds, paint houses and do so much more.”
Volunteering its services to the University, the bookstore provides the staging site for Service DAWGS Day. The bookstore’s patio serves as the check-in location; from there, students are assigned busses and vans for transportation to volunteer locations. Opening its doors early, the bookstore offers comfortable seating and “students can get a cup of coffee and a snack or purchase something like a hat before heading out,” Sorey adds.
After volunteering for their newly adopted community, tired students return to the bookstore for a free lunch, with pizza and cookies donated by local vendors and barbecued hotdogs are cooked by the bookstore staff. “I manned the grill and got the chance to speak with many first-year students—some of whom had never been here before,” says Sorey of the two-story, 32,000-square-foot store. “They were very impressed with its size and what it offered.” As classes began only a few days later, many of the participating students also picked up their pre-ordered textbooks at the store.
The school/store alliance helps welcome new students throughout orientation week, as the store hosts various VIP shopping events after hours with free food and drinks as well as tours. Once the freshmen are seasoned Bulldogs, the collegiate collaboration continues, with holiday season bringing on more community-service opportunities. The Giving Tree, run by the bookstore in cooperation with the MVC, is kicked off by erecting a tree in the bookstore. Volunteers decorate tags with the gender and ages of children from the local Head Start program. Tags are plucked off its branches by members of the campus as well as the community at large, who then return before the holidays with an appropriate gift that is wrapped. “By Christmas, the tree is full of gifts that we then take to the Head Start location,” Franks says. “The majority of kids ask for clothing or educational items, but we’ve gotten requests for bikes and LeapFrog computers—and sometimes, those wishes are answered.”
Embracing the company’s moniker of “proud partner” is something Sorey and the bookstore take seriously. “The culture that we’re trying to build is that we’re as much a part of Mississippi State as any other building or department or organization on campus,” he explains. “We are Mississippi State’s Barnes & Noble College bookstore. It’s all about being a good partner.”