There’s more to college than classes, grades and friends.
Billy Bernard, assistant director of student life at the University of Akron in Akron, and Julie Jones, career development and placement specialist at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, said students should also look to get involved off-campus through volunteer opportunities.
“Volunteering broadens your insight into how other people work and live and the plight of other people,” Jones said. “Sometimes, it makes you realize how blessed you are and allows you to live a more grateful life. And what I’ve always found when students go out and do work in the community, they leave with more joy from giving than they ever imagined. So, I think it becomes part of their DNA if they are in the right place to start as a volunteer.”
Bernard mirrored the sentiment, adding volunteering also allows students to get acclimated with the community in which they live, work and learn.
“People say volunteering makes them feel good and that’s why they do it, and that is partly true,” he said. “But we should also be volunteering to learn about the community and provide support because it’s the right thing to do. Most students live on campus (during college) and this helps them go out into the community and take time to learn about the city they are living in, and how they can contribute not just generally in their four years of college but outside of that as well.”
When motivating students to volunteer, Jones said her office at Ursuline starts with career fit. Volunteering in itself is important, but there is a bonus if the experience also ties into their degree study.
“Students come in and are assessed, and then we have all this information to direct them towards nonprofits and other organizations that would allow them to explore their interest while also giving back to the community in a way that fires them up,” she explained. “A lot of it also has to do with the student organizations they are involved with. When students can fit the time in to do it, it really impacts their lives. This can tie them into organizations that hopefully make a tie into their lives.”
At the University of Akron, Bernard said students are given many opportunities to first casually get involved with the community and later explore specific organizations.
“We have a really great relationship with a lot of our community partners and we’ve reached out to almost 80 nonprofit agencies every year,” he said. “So, we have students who know about the regular programs we have like Super Service Sunday, where they spend about two hours doing volunteer work. Every other week during the semester, we also organize projects in the student union called Drop In-Service. We make blankets, T-shirt pillows, ‘thank you’ cards for service members. We provide students with regular opportunities to do that.”
Both professionals said engaging students in volunteer opportunities can lead to academic and personal development.
“When they are engaging in the community, they are learning about themselves and taking the time to be introspective and think about what it is they are learning from the experience,” Bernard said. “They’re learning how to interact with other people, which will set them up for success in their career because businesses are always looking for people who can do that. It also can help a student discern their purpose in life and what exactly they want to be doing. It can spur ideas if they are on the right path in terms of their career.”
Jones said, “There is no question that the more you know about the world, the more you understand how your degree ties to it. Lots of learning in college is done outside of the classroom and some of those instances end up being the most impactful experiences. In a small school like Ursuline, there is a lot of talk about how your voice, vision and values make the world a better place and volunteering is the exact gateway for that.”