By Nick Erickson
Attending school in the backyard of some of the world’s most influential civic institutions, George Washington University students have long been engaged citizens willing to serve. This academic year was no different as students accumulated hundreds of thousands of service hours while being deeply involved in global initiatives that earned them recognition.
The Honey W. Nashman Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service expects to exceed 650,000 volunteer service hours and present awards to more than 500 students in 2022.
“I am hugely proud of GW students for the work that they do,” said Amy Cohen, executive director of the Nashman Center. “They consistently impress me with their commitment and their willingness to sometimes step outside their comfort zone to support others.”
In the process of students building their own civic skills, they also bolster their own well-being. Cohen said one of the best things a person can do is to support other people because it builds resiliency while helping both themselves and others.
GW students showed that this past academic year, even as the pandemic continued into its third year. Alternative Spring Breaks hit the road again in trips to Puerto Rico and Costa Rica for service projects, while another group stayed in D.C. to address a variety of local challenges such as food insecurities and housing. Students cleaned up the World War II Memorial on the September 11th National Day of Service and Remembrance, and Jumpstart at GW hosted a booth supporting language and literacy for young children at the Cherry Blossom Kite Festival on the National Mall.
There were also virtual events, as was the case on the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, where volunteers worked with the Smithsonian Transcription Center, National Archives Citizen Archivist program and Free Minds Book Club and Writing Workshop.
Students will be recognized for completing 100 hours of service, which students need to record their hours, which this year ran from April 24, 2021, to April 25, 2022.
“When you start to look at 100 hours or more, we're talking about students who've made a commitment and done something,” Cohen said. “It's not just wide but deep. Most of the students who win those awards are spending 80% to 100% of that time in one organization or in one community.”
Five GW students won AmeriCorps Presidential Volunteer Service Awards, handed out to what the organization deems the most exceptional volunteers based on service over a 12-month period or a lifetime. Seniors Ruchi Amin, Yen Liao, Bishop Matthew Walton and sophomores Dasia Bandy and Jaida Rogers were recognized.
The Nashman Center is tabulating this year’s service hours and expects to be able to award the Presidential Volunteer Service Awards to approximately 500 graduate and undergraduate students across the University.
“The President's Volunteer Service Award honors America’s proud tradition of volunteer service, recognizing the essential value that volunteers bring to our communities,” AmeriCorps CEO Michael D. Smith said in a press release. “I’m thrilled to present these awards to Ruchi, Dasia, Yen, Jaida and Bishop for their exceptional service and am grateful for the George Washington University’s continued commitment to promoting active citizenship. I am excited to see how these dedicated young leaders will continue to strengthen their community and change the world.”
Ten students also had their Commitments to Action accepted for the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU). Started in 2007, the initiative brings students from around the world to meet for training, resources and personalized mentorship with experts and influential leaders on how to design and implement a social impact project.
GW started with the CGIU in 2011. Many students also participate in other Nashman Center GWupstart social innovation programs and go through the New Venture Competition with their ideas, and each student receives funding from the university.
“GW students come to GW with an intent to make a mark on policy and make a mark in the world, and I think CGIU really gives our students a platform and a venue to take those great ideas into the stratosphere,” Cohen said.
This year, CGIU met virtually from April 11-13. The 10 GW students participating were: Anthony Hu, Man Luong, Linyi Li, Jerry St. Louis, Jessica Hinshaw, Julie Xiong, Tonya N. Jefferson, Brian O’Connor, Dex Burns and Ian Blume.
Four groups of students won a Nashman Center Prize for Community Engaged Research at the GW Research Showcase Winners Reception. Columbian College of Arts and Sciences students Olivia Issa, Emmanuelle Dyer Melhado and Sara Alassaf won first place for presenting their project recommending non-financial support for refugee-background students in higher education.
Adam Berman, studying special education, tied for second place with his presentation on improving employment outcomes for autistic adults. Human Services and Social Justice students Abigail Care and Alexa Betances also won second prize for their look at art therapy.
Jurnee Louder of University Writing won honorable mention for her research on peer tutors.
The Nashman Center also was well represented in the Excellence in Student Life Awards. Students Reed Risinger and Patrick Tajanlangit won individual excellence in service, while The Store earned recognition for group excellence in service.
Elizabeth Vaquera, executive director of the Cisneros Hispanic Leadership Institute and associate professor of Sociology and Public Policy and Public Administration, received the Honey Nashman Spark-A-Life Award.