The University of Florida and the city of Gainesville have put forth a forward-thinking strategic development plan to improve the growth and economic vitality of Gainesville and enhance collaboration between the city and university.

Led by UF Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Charlie Lane and Gainesville City Manager Anthony Lyons, this partnership presents an opportune time to examine student engagement in the community.

Gainesville will welcome about 7,000 new UF freshman to town over the next two months. Students come to the university eager to learn new things and curious about the opportunities the city and the university have to offer.

Students often arrive at the age of 18, freshly minted “adults” who are looking to make their mark on the world. For many, it’s their first time living independently. Habits are formed, worldviews are shaped and the dispositions of engaged citizenship are established. It’s one of the most formative times in one’s life, and a lot of learning will take place off campus and outside of the classroom.

Former Florida Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham always says that engaged and informed citizenship requires practice. While the university has a responsibility to offer students pathways to meaningful engagement, their involvement is most impactful when community members welcome them with open arms.

The Bob Graham Center for Public Service has stepped up to the plate to assist the university in its quest to engage the campus with the community. The center, working in conjunction with the city’s strategic initiatives department, announced four fellowship opportunities with the city during the fall and spring semesters of the 2017-18 academic year.

The center also invites students and members of the community to interact with and learn from one another at several public lectures hosted throughout year. This is not only an opportunity for networking — it also provides a sense of shared purpose and engagement on critical issues.

Ultimately, cities and universities are made up of people and it will be the responsibility of individuals, not organizations, to put the strategic redevelopment plan into meaningful action. For Gainesville and UF to truly create a strong and fruitful relationship, it is people — students included — who must accept the challenge and actively pursue their role in its implementation.

If you see a student at a local coffee spot, say hello. Engage with them. Ask them how they like the city and share with them why you think Gainesville is a great place to live. Make suggestions for great places around town to visit. They may not be “from Gainesville,” but they live here now and they have a role to play. Invite them to engage with the community at every turn.

UF recruits some of the most capable and exceptional minds that our state and nation have to offer. Finding ways to engage this vast pool of creative talent is a crucial component to the town-gown enhancement effort.

— Shelby Taylor and TJ Pyche work at the Bob Graham Center for Public Service