Most Colby students arrive on campus with volunteer service already on their résumé, so Colby’s recent recognition (from the Peace Corps) for producing civic-minded graduates alongside impressive numbers of students participating in volunteer activities (through the Colby Volunteer Center and Colby Cares About Kids) comes as no big surprise.
Colby is far from passive when it comes to fostering students’ continued engagement in civic and community service. But improving the welfare of local children and providing foot soldiers for community programs aren’t primary objectives. Colby is trying to shift the focus, motivation, and perception of civic service from acts of charity benefiting others to learning experiences that help shape Colby students, says Madison Louis ’13, director of the CVC.
It’s not about the number of meals served at the soup kitchen or the improvements to trails in a national park; “It’s an investment in the students and how they think about the world,” Louis said.
Jim Terhune, vice president of student affairs, said the goal isn’t for students to go on to raise families hoping that their children will also volunteer in soup kitchens, but rather that Colby graduates will put themselves in positions to change society so soup kitchens are no longer necessary. The message to students, he said, is, “You’re the people who are going to be able to change this.”
“It is already a huge chunk of our students’ experience when they arrive at Colby,” said Terhune, who made civic engagement a key part of the Colby 360 plan for residential life and learning. Once they’re on campus, it’s a priority for the College to foster more—and more meaningful—civic engagement and service.
Louis acknowledged that a lot of high school students volunteer in order to check the box and have it on their résumés and college applications. When those students get to Colby, they can approach civic engagement with the attitude, “I don’t have to do this anymore,” she said. That opens a door to make volunteerism “a form of self development and learning,” according to Louis.
Beyond the CVC and CCAK, there are various initiatives through the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement to foster service learning and civic engagement, and the C2iT program was added several years ago to make a day of community service part of the fall first-year orientation program.
The focus on service was evident in February when a Student Affairs staff meeting was devoted to the topic and, coincidentally, on the same day the CVC held its first volunteers fair in an effort to get students to sign up for one or more of the dozens of volunteer opportunities that the CVC coordinates.
One relatively new CVC program, Alternative Spring Break, will send three groups of students to New York City nonprofits, a group to Nicaragua, and another group to do trail work in the Virgin Islands National Park next month. “It’s in its fourth year, and it’s grown a lot,” Louis said. Part of that growth is in the preparation and post-trip conversations, with seminars held beforehand and structured opportunities for reflection afterward.
Colby’s emphasis on civic engagement is reflected in the overrepresentation of Colby alumni in Teach for America, where the College has placed an average of 12 students each year in recent years, in the numbers of alumni in City Year programs, and in the recent list of colleges and universities producing the most Peace Corps volunteers.
Colby ranked 23rd on the Peace Corps’ 2013 Top Colleges list for small schools, with 14 Colby alums currently serving as volunteers in Azerbaijan, Burkina Faso, Dominican Republic, Ghana, Guyana, Micronesia, Mongolia, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Senegal, Swaziland, Ukraine, and Zambia. Since the agency was founded in 1961, 323 Colby alumni have served in the Peace Corps.
Meanwhile back on Mayflower Hill, the Colby Cares About Kids program hit a new record last fall with 486 students signed up for a minimum three-semester commitment as mentors to area schoolchildren, Goldfarb Center CCAK Coordinator Lori Morin said.
And before the Colby Volunteer Center’s fair, Louis and Assistant CVC Director Meghan Harwood ’15 said they had 285 volunteers who had made a regular commitment to Waterville-area programs in addition to several hundred more who participate in one-day events such as Colby Cares Day and Johnson Day.