Jess Danen

UW-Green Bay grad lends organizational expertise to Downtown Green Bay, Inc.

Jessica Danen combines her academic focus with passion for not-for-profit sector

When Jessica Danen ’18, (Public Administration) wanted to do her senior honors project, she found an opportunity to apply her studies in Public Administration and non-profit management to the needs of the organization for which she interned — Downtown Green Bay, Inc.

“I was exposed to just about every function of Downtown Green Bay,” said Danen, “which gave me a sense of how non-profit organizations work in general. It was a great internship because I want to focus my career on non-profit organization management.

“I was especially fortunate to be able to attend the Public Art committee meetings, because I saw the passion and creativity the committee members bring to their work. And they’re all volunteers!”

Danen saw an opportunity in the Public Art committee to combine her senior honors project with the work of the committee. She proposed to work with committee members and Downtown Green Bay leaders to produce a strategic plan for the committee.

“They have all kinds of ideas for public art, but they sometimes aren’t sure how to get them done, to get from A to B,” said Danen. “I hoped a more strategic look would give them an idea of how they could get some traction for their ideas for the long-term. I suggested that we focus on four areas: the proposal process, funding, partnerships and online presence.”

She proposed the idea to her internship supervisor, Pam Parish ’16 (Environmental Policy and Planning and Public Administration), program manager for Downtown Green Bay Inc. & Olde Main Street, Inc. She was immediately supportive.

“The subcommittee truly appreciated the work that Jess put together,” said Parish. “Our subcommittee is made up of volunteers whose focuses vary, ranging from architects to city planners to artists. We felt very lucky that Jess chose to work on a project that would benefit our subcommittee.”

With the enthusiastic support from Parish, Danen discussed the idea with her honors project adviser, Associate Prof. David Helpap (Public and Environmental Affairs).

“Jess’s project was exactly what I look for in an Honors Project,” said Helpap. “In my experience, the best projects are those that apply what students learn in the classroom to their own research idea or to a particular problem or need in the community. Jess’s project fit this mold perfectly. She used the skills she learned in her classes about policy analysis, program evaluation, and arts management to help the community with a particular need.”

“My process was to look at similar committees in other cities like Green Bay,” said Danen. “I looked for cities with programs that excelled in one or more of those areas. The four cities I found had robust programs that seemed to meet these criteria.” Those cities were Philadelphia, Pa.; Arlington, Va.; Hillsboro, Ore. and Waukesha, Wis.

Danen’s approach involved personal interviews, online surveys and online analysis. Where she could, she spoke directly with a representative of each program. She also reviewed each organization’s online publications. The study took about three months to complete.

“Philadelphia’s public art program is one of the oldest in the nation, and also one of the most successful,” Danen states in her report. “It excels at having a strong proposal process and online presence. The public art program in Arlington excels at making information available regarding its proposal process and funding, as well as utilizing multiple partnerships. It also has a strong online presence. Hillsboro has a strong proposal process and online presence. Waukesha has well documented its proposal process, funding sources and online presence.”

With her observations in hand, Danen presented her findings to the subcommittee in January 2018 and responded to questions.

“The committee members were really grateful for the information,” she recalled, “and they asked a lot of questions to understand how they can use the information for our community.  I think the most  significant finding for us was the importance of an online presence. It feeds into every other part of the process: funding, proposals, marketing and partnerships.

“I’m hoping they will continue to use this information in the months to come,” Danen said. “Even though I’ve moved on to a full-time job with a non-profit animal rescue group in Green Bay, I’m still part of the committee and can help adapt it for our community.”

“The ideas and research that Jess provided in her project have been a great guiding tool for the subcommittee,” said Parish. “Moving forward, the subcommittee is focusing on creating a more standard way to submit proposals for art projects. Her section on funding will be immensely helpful in finding ways to continue to fund the projects we would like to see in our community.

“Jess’s project helped influence our subcommittee’s course of action by giving us somewhere to start,” Parish continued. “It can be difficult to plan when there isn’t much to go off. The tools and examples she has provided in her project are going to be used in the upcoming year as the subcommittee works to become more established.”

Danen, a native of De Pere, said her studies at UW-Green Bay helped her determine the best approach for this project.

“I drew a lot on my classes in strategic planning and policy analysis,” she said. “I’m interested in not-for-profit management as a career and it was helpful to apply those classes to this project for Downtown Green Bay. All the writing and classroom presentations I did were really helpful when it came time to prepare the report and present it to the Arts committee.”

She is looking forward to seeing her project influence the future.

“Pam Parish from Downtown Green Bay, Inc. has mentioned that my research will be very helpful in the process (of bringing more art to the downtown) and I’m excited that my project will make a real-life impact,” she said. “Additionally, a public art map is going to be added to the DGBI/OMSI in the near future, which was one of my main suggestions based on my research. I’m super excited to see that come to life.”

As a faculty member and mentor, Helpap said he was happy to help Danen make the appropriate connections.

“The project is a good example of the ways in which the university and its students can work with the Green Bay community to improve the community more broadly,” said Helpap. “Students benefit from the experience and the community receives assistance addressing specific needs or problems.

“Overall, I think the university does a good job connecting with the community in a variety of ways” Helpap continued. “I believe we, as a department, have a culture of encouraging students to engage with the community as much as possible, whether through internships and applied projects or interactions with guest speakers and field trips.

“There can be a perception that the university is somewhat disconnected from the community due to its geographic location,” he continued.” However, when you examine all of the ways in which students connect and interact with community members and organizations on a daily basis, that disconnect largely disappears.”

Danen acknowledged the enthusiasm and support of her advisor was part of her success.

“I have to give a lot of credit to professor Helpap for inspiring me on this project,” said Danen. “He was really interested in the study and was engaged with it all the way through.

“One of the best things about UW Green Bay has been the networking here,” Danen said. “Being able to connect with my professors and my peers has helped me grow and make connections for my career.”

Danen is now employed as the Community Engagement & Education Specialist at Happily Ever After Animal Sanctuary, Inc. Green Bay.

Story by freelance writer Jim Streed ’05