New Golden Bears start the school year off with a spirit of service

group photo of student volunteers in white sulphur springs

It’s been a busy week for new WVU Tech students. They braved 90-degree heat to move into residence halls on Saturday. That afternoon, they attended the university’s official convocation ceremony with more than 300 fellow newcomers, family and friends.

In the days since, they have participated in dozens of events, explored campus, met with staff members, purchased books, smiled for student ID photos and spent their free time getting their proverbial collegiate ducks in a row.

It would have been easy to call it a day on Tuesday, the last day of WVU Tech’s orientation program and the day before school started for all students in the WVU system. No one would blame a new student for wanting to kick off their shoes and spend the day relaxing, but that’s not what they did on their last day of the summer.

Instead, more than 80 new WVU Tech students from both campuses laced up their shoes, rolled up their sleeves and traveled a combined 230 miles to lend their time in service projects aimed at helping those impacted by recent flooding in Southern West Virginia.

They called the project Golden Bears Give Back.

“The WVU Tech community has a long history of volunteerism and service,” said Candice Stadler, director of Career Services at WVU Tech and service project organizer.

“The Golden Bears Give Back project communicates to students that as a member of the WVU Tech community, we expect you to be academically, socially and civically engaged.”

Taking care of the little things
group photos of student volunteers in belle wv

On Tuesday morning, 20 student volunteers gathered in the old Magic Mart in Belle, West Virginia. Inside they found a sprawling warehouse packed with toiletries, cleaning supplies, clothing, water, furniture and other provisions destined for flood relief agencies.

Within minutes, those 20 students were cleaning the loading dock for new deliveries, checking and assembling donated furniture and testing small appliances like lamps and irons.

“We thought it was important for the institution to give back after the flooding because so many of our students, their friends and families were impacted,” said Scott Robertson, Assistant Dean of Students for TRIO programs at WVU Tech.

“Those impacted people have had a hard time getting back on their feet and we want to make sure that they understand that the WVU Tech family appreciates and cares for them,” he said.

Volunteers also spent time putting together family kits – bundles of basic cleaning supplies and other household essentials – for displaced families living in temporary FEMA housing.

David Hoge, director of the Homeland Security State Administrative Agency in the department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, is currently overseeing the distribution center. He said he was pleased to see so many college students getting involved.

students assembling furniture

“I think when you help someone else who has experienced a disaster, it helps you appreciate the generosity of our society and it helps you understand some things that you personally can do to be more prepared,” he said.

“This is also a great experience for new college students. Being able to find ways to meaningfully engage with the community is such a productive thing to do at that stage,” he said.

Among the young students finding that sense of community engagement in Belle was Austin Nettleton, a cross-country runner and Athletic Coaching Education major from Seattle, Washington. He said that moving from the big city meant he didn’t know anyone yet, but that the project was a great way to find a place in his new community.

The group also brought along upperclassmen like junior forensics major Tyeshea White. The New York native served as an orientation leader and plans to put the skills she’s learning to work in the United States Army.

The project garnered support from local students, too. Mary Morrison is a chemical engineering student from Huntington. As a West Virginian, she said getting involved was personal.

“We’re helping these people out because it’s the right thing to do. I got involved because I live here and this means a lot to me to see people here who are actually helping. They’re helping my people,” she said.

Cleaning up community spaces

In White Sulphur Springs, students spent their time in the sun, stooping to uproot weeds or dropping handfuls of collected river stones into plastic buckets. This group worked on a number of locations in the town, which had been severely impacted by the flooding in June.

female student gathers weeds

The volunteers split up into groups to clean debris and restore community spaces. They removed thousands of stones from baseball fields that sat under six feet of floodwater. They cleaned out a community garden space that had been damaged in the floods, tearing out old fencing and planting beds, cutting away damaged bushes and spreading new mulch.

That focus on community spaces was intentional.

“It was an opportunity for us to bring back a little normalcy for people in the area,” said Stadler. “Even now, they’re trying to get back on their feet, so this helps to make things look a little more normal for folks. It’s a way to reach out and help them where we can.”

Nicolas Binfield came to WVU Tech from from Cleveland, Ohio. He’s studying environmental engineering technology and has a passion for environmental work. He said he was glad to see so many people his age spending time on the project.

“It makes the community look better and, hopefully, that will make some people in the community feel better. It lets the community know that people still care about them and that we’re thinking of them every day and that they’re not alone in this world after such a devastating tragedy,” he said.

A different kind of lesson plan

The service project is a new component of the orientation program at WVU Tech. Driven by stories of West Virginians rising up to meet the needs of those impacted by June’s flooding, the department of Student Life worked with the West Virginia University Center for Service and Learning and local contacts to find areas of need that students could address.

two students removing damaged fence

“This is the beginning of our developing an enriched culture of service on our campus,” said WVU Tech dean of students, Richard Carpinelli.

“We wanted to get new students used to the concept. There will be many more opportunities now for new students – and for everyone in the WVU Tech community – for projects that can give people hope and that can help in times of need. This is important to us,” he said.

For Stadler, students experience the sense of community that comes with his kind of service, but they also learn skills and develop civic mindsets that can change their careers.

“Volunteerism engages students in our campus and community. The experiences associated with volunteerism build civic engagement skills as well as assist students in identifying career goals,” she said.

“We would like for students to begin engaging in experiences early on in their career at WVU Tech, so that they have an opportunity to build their resume, fulfill requirements for service and develop career and self-awareness.”

Hilary Tepdjip Padjip, a junior civil engineering major from Cameroon, watched the new students tackle the projects with enthusiasm. As an upperclassmen, she sees the value in getting to work at an early stage of the college experience.

“It’s one thing to be in a classroom or studying, but then it’s another thing to be in the field, so students getting involved have a way of seeing what’s it’s like to be coordinating and working on actual projects in the real world,” she said.

Stadler said the project would not have been possible without support from Student Life staff members and WVU Tech Dining Services. WVU Tech’s athletics department was also crucial in arranging travel for the volunteers.

In all, the group completed more than 250 hours of service, which will count toward WVU’s Million Hour Match service project. The service initiative tasks the WVU community with completing a million hours of community service by 2018 and challenges West Virginia residents to do the same.

View photos of the day’s service activities on Flickr, and be sure to check out local coverage from The Register-Herald.