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Culture of giving is growing at Tech

WVU Tech volunteers packed snacks for local youngsters for One Voice's Food for Angels project.WVU Tech volunteers packed snacks for local youngsters at One Voice.

WVU Tech students are known for a lot of things. As graduates, they have a reputation for a deep knowledge base and an ability to solve problems in unique ways. As students, they’re lauded for their determination and their ingenuity.

These days, they’re adding another trait to the Golden Bear persona: community servant.

The WVU Tech community participated in a number of service activities during Service Week , April 16-21. The event celebrated National Volunteer Week, putting students, faculty and staff in touch with five organizations that serve the region’s people, its pets and its environment.

The week saw 105 volunteers log more than 250 hours in six days. By comparison, it would take a full-time employee a month of 60-hour work weeks to produce the same result.

Beyond service week, this year has been incredible for community service. The WVU Tech community has logged more than 2000 hours of service with more than 40 partner organizations in the 2017-2018 academic year alone.

“That’s more than an hour for every student at Tech, and that’s pretty incredible,” said Associate Dean for Student Development Candice Stadler, who oversees the University’s service learning efforts.

Tracked in WVU’s iServe system, it’s an economic impact of more than $40,000 for the region. 

A spark to a flame

WVU Tech students craft more than 100 dog toys for Operation Underdog during Service Week.Students craft more than 100 dog toys for Operation Underdog during Service Week.

Community service has always been a part of the Tech experience, but recent years have seen a dramatic increase in activity. Stadler credits the flood of 2016 with sparking that surge of interest. 

“That was a defining event for a lot of our students and for a lot of people in Southern West Virginia. When that happened, we as an institution said ‘we need to do something,’ and it created a whole domino effect of events that students just wanted to be a part of," she said. 

Laura Lucas is an AmeriCorps VISTA working with Tech. She organized the spring service events and said that she loves to see students at this age getting so involved.

"I think they're thinking outside of themselves," she said. "Every one of us in this region has gone through something or knows someone who has gone through something, so just having that sense of awareness to our region's needs is powerful.”

“They're at this crucial point in their lives where they're trying to figure out what they want to do. They're interested in caring for their communities and gaining experience, so they're getting involved because they want to be a part of something. Being able to invest in other people while they're investing in themselves and their education is a wonderful thing to tie together," she added.

At a time of year when most college students are counting down the days till summer, Lucas said she isn't surprised that students are still excited to volunteer.

"This is how they started the year and it's part of their routine now. I don't think they would want to end the semester any other way. I think they'll miss is over the summer. Those who graduate this year might go on to work, volunteer or donate to community service organizations because it's a part of who they are," she said. 

Part of that culture is intentional. Students now undertake a day of service as part of their orientation, and that program will see its third entry in August. The University organizes a number of service activities throughout the year – like MLK Day of Service and alternative spring break – as well as ongoing service projects each and every week.

Stadler shared that her department has been interviewing orientation leaders for next year. In those interviews, respondents overwhelming pointed to the orientation day of service as their most memorable experience. One international student even made a local friend during the day and now celebrates holidays with that family.

"It creates a bond to this place and to West Virginia, but also it creates those special bonds within the student community,” said Stadler. “This is why we're doing this. We want them to make those connections and feel like the important part of the community that they are."

She thinks it’s part of the fabric of what it means to be a Tech student.

"I think we're recruiting more and more students who have service in their hearts. The students that are coming to Tech know that this is just a part of what we do and who we are. When you believe in that mindset at the beginning, you want to be a part of that going forward," she said.

Stadler said that her department has been working hard to bring service opportunities to the Tech community, but that she couldn’t do it without the support of her colleagues in Beckley and Morgantown.

“Service is a value of WVU and our commitment to service aligns with the main campus,” she said.

"Having the support of our incredible staff here and an AmeriCorps VISTA who cares deeply about Beckley and is very well connected in our service community is a great thing, too. We're very lucky to have a lot of people who believe in this."

Check out photos from Service Week on Flickr and video on YouTube. Readers can also browse photos from this year’s MLK Day of Service; the community partner and service fair; and the orientation service project.