GW Community Continues Service through Pandemic

Students, faculty and other members of the university community continue volunteer and service-learning projects amid the COVID-19 crisis.

May 21, 2020

MLK Day of Service

Hundreds of volunteers from the GW community served throughout Washington, D.C. as part of the 2020 annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service and Leadership. (Photo by: Harrison Jones/GW Today)

By Tatyana Hopkins

As communities across the country work to meet the social, economic and health care demands of the COVID-19 crisis, students and faculty members from across the George Washington University have furthered their commitment to service by continuing volunteer efforts and service-learning projects throughout the pandemic.

“GW students are reporting all kinds of service through the GW Serves database,” said Amy Cohen, the executive director of the GW Honey W. Nashman Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service. “Students and faculty have worked hard to adapt their goals and continue to connect scholarship to service, taking their service online or serving their home communities in new ways.” 

She noted that more than 500 GW volunteers have served through the GW Health Volunteer Task Force, which was organized by the GW Milken Institute School of Public Health, School of Medicine and Health Sciences and School of Nursing, to mobilize volunteers with public health, clinical and other health-related skills and expertise to support local and national responses during the public health emergency.

Although SMHS does not officially sanction the service, the school compiles and connects GW community members to critical volunteer opportunities such as contact tracing, administrative support as well as assisting at testing sites.

Many have responded with efforts directly related to the pandemic including running errands, picking up medications and delivering meals, especially for those in high-risk groups.

Jeanna Korzun, a junior studying international affairs, reported on the GW Serves platform that she is delivering groceries to her neighbors who were in a “stressful situation.” Meanwhile, Olivia Cantrell, a graduating senior and women’s rowing team member, sewed and donated about 45 masks to the Navajo Nation Department of Health after finding there was less need for them at local hospitals. 

Isabel Rauch, a first-year student studying international affairs, wakes daily before dawn to serve  meals at an overnight shelter and soup kitchen housed at St. Bartholomew’s Church in New York City.

“I wake up at 5:30 a.m.,” she said. “Despite having to wake up extremely early, I found it very fun and very self-rewarding.”  

Others have continued service-learning projects from their homes through courses that connect community engagement and scholarship.

Clendenin Stewart, a first-year student studying economics, used material he learned in his “Understanding Organisms” course to raise community awareness.

"I educated my neighborhood on a species I did not know was endangered to my area…the Etowah Crayfish,” he said. “It is a species that lives in the ponds, rivers and creeks behind the houses in my area."

While some students took advantage of the opportunity to transcribe documents for the Smithsonian Transcription Service, others continued their service with local organizations supporting elementary students as tutors and mentors online.

Ms. Cohen said despite the disruptions of the pandemic, many students and faculty also participated in this year’s Nashman Center Symposium on Community Engaged Scholarship. The event, which invites the GW community to share their experiences working with community partners and to reflect on the values and aims of their work, featured 26 virtual presentations.

Jacob Tafrate, a sophomore studying geography, was a first-place Nashman Prize for Community Based Research winner at the symposium alongside first-year geography student Elizabeth Szafranski. Their project focused on informal road networks in Siberia, how they evolved over time and their various hazards and analyzed how they influenced people in the area.  

“Our research can help inform sustainable development and discussions on land-use rights within the region,” he said. “It is my hope that this work sheds light on the complexities surrounding development and informal infrastructure for communities on the frontlines of climate change.”

Mr. Tafrate said that the most meaningful scholarship is engaged with the community and helps to better understand, analyze and evaluate the human experience and that he hopes to witness the impact of their work firsthand after developing personal connections with the community.

Ms. Cohen agreed.

She said connecting academic work to meeting needs in the world is important for students’ academic achievement, professional growth and development as active democratic citizens.

“Students’ impact reports on GW Serves continues to give us inspiration and energy for all the work that is to come,” she said.