Ohio University students benefit from a residential experience that combines learning with opportunities for student engagement on campus and in the community.
Angela Gist believes the world is a reciprocal place. Kindness is contagious, she says, and if you give it, you'll receive it. "
When you help someone, you have this feeling that it will come back to you in some form," says the Ohio University senior. "It just makes you feel good."
When Gist came to campus from her hometown of St. Louis to pursue a degree in advertising, she brought with her a remarkable sense of altruism nurtured by her family, community and church. That's why volunteerism has played such a large role in her Ohio University experience.
Through the Center for Community Service and other campus organizations, Gist has worked with children through Big Brothers/Big Sisters, painted local residents' homes and participated in campus fund-raising events. She also has provided assistance to such community groups as the local women's shelter, ReUse Industries and Mount Zion Baptist Church. Such inclinations toward volunteerism can be traced back to her childhood.
"It's a value that I was raised with in my family and community," says Gist, who also serves as an administrative resident assistant in Boyd Hall. "I grew up in a single parent home, and a lot of people contributed to my home life out of the kindness of their hearts. Their actions have made a difference in my life, and I want to give back."
Merle Graybill, director of the Center for Community Service, says more students like Gist are coming to college seeking service-oriented activities. That's because many middle and high schools are incorporating service learning into the curriculum, she says, and families are becoming more involved in volunteer efforts in their own communities.
"Students are being encouraged to think about their roles as citizens and what it is they have to offer beyond their own family and studies," Graybill says. "As an institution of higher education, it's our responsibility to help them form habits that will follow them after they leave and move into their own communities."
The Center, established in 1988, connects more than 4,000 Ohio University students annually with volunteer opportunities at some 70 nonprofit organizations in the Athens area. The Center also administers such programs as AppalCORPS and AmeriCorps, in which volunteers assist Appalachian Ohio schools, and Community Service Corps, in which students are selected for work-study positions at local nonprofit organizations. Faculty also play an important role, weaving a community service component into their curriculum, ranging from first-year to graduate level courses. Graybill is working with regional higher education to expand service learning on the University's five regional campuses. This academic year, the Faculty Service Learning Institute will be conducted on a regional campus.
To enhance the involvement of students in volunteerism, the Center for Community Service plans to establish a Community Service Leadership Council made up of student leaders from service organizations across campus. Goals include coordinating campus volunteer efforts, fostering partnerships with nonprofit organizations and establishing a philanthropic process that will fund community service projects.
In 2000, the Center established the Community Service Scholars program with an initial contribution to an endowment from the Stocklen-Jacoby family. 'The initiative provides selected students tuition scholarships in exchange for organizing campus community service activities.
These types of service opportunities have enriched thousands of Ohio University students' academic experiences. Gist, for one, wants to weave volunteerism throughout her life as she plans for graduate school and a career afterward.
"You can come to college and not do anything but your classwork," Gist says, "but you don't necessarily get the best out of your education. It's what you make of it."
[Editor?s Note: Angela Gist graduated from Ohio University in June 2003.]
Ohio University has a multifaceted mission that combines academics, social and community elements. Much like the enduring bricks that form Ohio University's structural foundation, these elements form the basis for our future as a comprehensive, national university. This is the fourth in a five-part series revealing how our adherence to Ohio University's mission is influencing the lives of students, faculty and community members inside and outside Ohio University's enduring brick walls.