Students, programs, partners recognized at annual service awards.
By James Irwin
Kirk Wilson’s first volunteer experience was a bit self-serving.
“In high school I wanted to be in the National Honor Society, and I had to do 40 service hours to be in it,” he said.
But when Mr. Wilson, now a senior in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, arrived at the George Washington University, he began to see civic engagement differently.
“I realized people loved doing community service here,” he said. “And they don’t just love it because it looks good on a resume, but because they have a passion for it.”
Mr. Wilson’s enthusiasm for service struck a familiar chord among the students, community organizers and GW administrators who attended Tuesday’s Academic-Service Learning Symposium and Celebration of Service event in the Marvin Center. The university, which will report its annual service hours next month, has experienced a landmark year when it comes to civic engagement.
GW Students present projects at Tuesday's Service-Learning Symposium.
“We have accomplished a great deal this year,” Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service Executive Director Amy Cohen said. “We had 254,000 service hours last year. We know, from preliminary reports, that we’re north of 260,000 this year, and we’re still logging numbers.”
Tuesday afternoon’s celebratory event honored the notable work of students, faculty and community partners who have helped increase GW’s community service footprint in 2013-14. The Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service handed out nine awards and recognized the work of signature programs and community partners, including engageDC, DC Reads, Alternative Breaks, Academic Service-Learning, the Public Service Grant Commission, Higher Achievement, Little Friends for Peace and Thrive DC.
The Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service recognized nine groups and individuals with awards on Tuesday:
Collaboration Excellence Award
Service Project Excellence Award
Kristen Pinto (Little Friends for Peace)
Research Excellence Award
Faculty Engagement Award
Student Choice Award
Bridge Builder Award
We Salute You Award
Pizzazz and Passion Award
Unsung Hero Award
The expected increase in logged service hours, Ms. Cohen said, is thanks to both the growth of existing programs and the development of new ones. GW Responds, which originated in 2012 as a post-Hurricane Sandy disaster-recovery program in partnership with the American Red Cross, has expanded into a training education and disaster preparedness team. GW Alternative Breaks hosted a record 17 service trips this year. Academic service-learning opportunities, Ms. Cohen said, also increased.
“Academic service-learning, in the past, has had in the neighborhood of 40 to 45 service-learning courses a year,” she said. “In large part due to the work of [Academic Service-Learning Coordinator] Maurice Smith and his team, as well as our faculty, we had 62 service-learning courses this year, allowing students to make a difference in the community while building their academic knowledge.”
The university will continue to log hours using its self-reporting tool, NobleHour, until Friday.
While the hours are quantifiable, those honored said the experience is invaluable. Mr. Wilson, who participates in Thrive DC and DC Reads and led an Alternative Breaks trip to Costa Rica in January, said civic engagement at GW goes beyond the raw data. Service, he said, enhances communities and also opens people to experiences they would not have if they didn’t step outside their comfort zone.
“I’m thinking when I’m older, when I have kids, I’m going to sit down and tell them about leading that trip to Costa Rica,” he said. “We went down for a week, and we met with community members, we helped build a greenhouse, we did organic farming. Before I went down there I really didn’t think about the environment, but now I do. That one service experience changed my mindset.