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UWyo Magazine
University of Wyoming
Dept. 3226
1000 East University Ave.
Laramie, WY 82071-2000
Phone: 307-766-2379
TTY: 307-766-6729
Email: uwyomag@uwyo.edu

UWyo Magazine

January 2016 | Vol. 17, No. 2

New Era of Science

Adewale Sekoni and Troy Axthelm apply primer to a community member’s front porch during the 2015 Big Event—an event that drew more than 700 volunteers.

The Value of Volunteering

Many UW students make volunteering a way of life—a value they carry with them across the state and around the world.

By Micaela Myers

Every year, about 6,000 University of Wyoming students engage in more than 185,000 volunteer hours—and that’s just the hours the university can track.

“Students clearly want to give back to their state and community,” says Eric Webb, executive director of Residence Life and Dining Services and the Wyoming Union. “Volunteering is a standard way of life for many of our students.”

Students give through UW-sponsored annual service days, Alternative Breaks service-learning trips, class projects, fraternities and sororities, recognized student organizations, residence life, the Wyoming Conservation Corps and work with local nonprofits and faith-based groups.

“I was raised to invest all my time and effort into things that I love, and serving others is definitely something I enjoy doing,” says Ethan Atwood, a senior microbiology major from Casper, Wyo.

Service, Leadership & Community Engagement

“This generation is incredibly motivated and passionate about people, giving back and making a difference,” say Erin Olsen, Wyoming Union assistant director for the Service, Leadership and Community Engagement (SLCE) office.

UW sponsors several annual days of service, including 9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance, Make A Difference Day—the Spooky Sprint canned food drive, Martin Luther King Jr. National Day of Service and Earth Day. But October’s Big Event has truly become the big event of service days.

Started in 2013, the Big Event now draws more than 700 student volunteers. In 2015, the students completed projects at 150 service sites, which included nonprofits, churches and individual community members’ homes.

The First Baptist Church in Laramie has benefited from the Big Event for the past two years. In 2014, the students performed maintenance on the church’s yard and day-care play area. This year, additional volunteers meant that the students also helped move furniture, paint and more.

“The students were magnificent and worked like professionals,” says Elnora Frye, chairperson for the church’s board. “I had such a great time with these kids. I want to have some church members share this experience with them next year, as it is a good program for which we are so thankful.”

The nonprofit Home On the Range Animal Haven has called on the students each year since the Big Event started. This year, the volunteers cleaned out a flooded barn, took down a temporary enclosure and put up fencing.

“The students were very positive about helping, very friendly and worked diligently,” says Deb Roberts, executive director of the sanctuary. “I think the Big Event is a remarkable idea. It’s a really great connection to the community. The help to Home On the Range is invaluable.”

John Nutter, who retired from UW and has lived in Laramie for 32 years, just needed help moving a piano a short distance, but the student volunteers ended up doing much more. “They raked leaves, they washed 27 windows both inside and out, and then we had them load up an old dog house into my vehicle,” he says. “They even volunteered to come back in the spring and wash windows.

“I think it’s a tremendous effort on the part of the university—and SLCE in particular—to be able to build the relationship between the university and the community members.”

The students say they get just as much out of it as the community does. “Service is absolutely a two-way street,” says Maddy Graham, a senior from Casper, Wyo., studying communication disorders and business management. Graham’s volunteer work includes the Big Event, Spooky Sprint and Alternative Breaks. “People expect to give, but they have no idea how much they can truly gain from the experience. My opportunities have allowed me to grow as an individual. I’ve learned so much about myself, my community and even the world.”

Atwood, who volunteers at the Big Event, as well as through Alternative Breaks, Spooky Sprint and other SLCE events, says that the best rewards are great conversations with those they serve and with fellow volunteers. “I plan to continue my service work beyond my UW career,” he says. “The reason I chose my major is to eventually be in a position where I can care for people all the time, as either a medical doctor or a nurse practitioner.”

English secondary education senior Danielle Wood of Nederland, Colo., agrees that getting to know people is one of the best parts of volunteering. Among other things, Wood has participated in the Big Event, Martin Luther King Jr. National Day of Service and Alternative Breaks. “Doing service is important to me because without it, I would have never been forced to step outside of my day-to-day routine to participate in something larger than myself. It has allowed me to grow with the understanding that we are all in this together.”

Like Atwood, she plans to carry her service work into her career: “Having numerous service opportunities here at UW has inspired me to be a service leader in my future career as a teacher. I want to make sure that I not only serve my students but give back to the school and local community.”

SLCE’s First Year Institute, a student-led leadership retreat, helps engage students from the beginning. “I’ve only been here for a year, but I made it a goal to make service and volunteering one of the main focal points of my experience,” says sophomore Donatellia Austin, a humanities and fine arts major from Cheyenne, Wyo., who participated in the institute. “After that, I got involved with SLCE, participating in the Big Event, the Good Mule Project, Women’s Leadership Conference, Martin Luther King Days of Dialogue and all of the national days of service.

“I am motivated to volunteer because I find a lot of joy in it,” she says. “Service is something that, when you put a lot of heart into it and you expect not a reward but a feeling of achievement and community, it’s better than getting paid.”

Wyoming Conservation Corps

Since 2006, UW is home to the Wyoming Conservation Corps (WCC), an AmeriCorps-supported program in which students receive college credit through UW while carrying out service work on Wyoming’s public lands each summer.

In 2015 alone, students completed nearly 20,000 hours of public service, including 25 miles of trail work, 20 miles of fencing, 10 square miles of noxious weed removal, more than 1,000 pine beetle-killed trees removed, more than 50 staircases built, 500 junipers removed to promote prime sage grouse habitat and four bridges built.

While the program accepts members from around the nation, 83 percent were UW students last year. The students learn technical and interpersonal skills, both in the classroom and on 10-day job stints around the state. They also receive industry-recognized certifications in such things as Wilderness First Responder, Wildland Fire Chainsaw and Leave No Trace. Working 10-hour days of hard labor, they earn a living stipend as well as a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award for educational expenses. But the greatest value comes in real-world skills and experience.

Student Amanda Harper, of Birmingham, Ala., came to UW to earn her master’s degree in sociology and environment and natural resources. She hopes to one day have a federal career using the skills she learned. “WCC provides the next generation’s workforce with hands-on experience so that the people who are going to be the managers coming down the line are getting field experience and getting to see the issues they’ll have to deal with when they’re land managers,” she says.

Harper also believes that the work is an important service to the state. “Especially this fall with fire taking so much of the federal budget, the agencies can’t always pay for the services they need. They need trees taken off the fence, for example, but to have a private contractor come in and do that is just not feasible. So we come in and provide affordable conservation work to different people across the state.”

Webb commends the program for its state reach. “WCC does a great job of networking with individuals, organizations and agencies around the state,” he says.

“We partner with state agencies, federal agencies, energy companies and small nonprofits statewide,” says WCC Assistant Director Patrick Harrington. For example, WCC partners each year with Devon Energy. In 2015, they worked together to restore sage grouse habitat on public lands, and Devon was awarded the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission’s 2015 Chairman’s Stewardship Award for Best Environmental Partnership.

“The WCC is an outstanding organization that has become an important resource in Wyoming’s ongoing environmental management effort,” says Nick Agopian, public and government affairs professional for Devon. Agopian founded the WCC in 2006 while studying law at UW and remains a steadfast supporter.

The fact that the WCC is located within UW and Residence Life and Dining Services provides unique advantages to the organization, including business support, reduced meal expenses and the opportunity to provide academic courses and credit. “We provide academic credit to our members through the UW Outreach School, and we’re hosted by the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources,” Harrington says, noting the WCC is one of only two programs with this educational focus.

The WCC experience gave Harrington, a Wyoming native who started with WCC as a crew member, a newfound devotion to the state: “The job taught me to love Wyoming in a real and sincere sense.” It’s that love for the state and for giving that motivates UW students to devote thousands of hours of service each year—in campus communities and across the state.

WYO-gold

The University of Wyoming is home to more than 250 recognized student organizations, which provide opportunities for learning, fun and service. The WYO-gold Student Alumni Association focuses on helping students become leaders, excel, network and give back. “I was hooked because of what the organization does,” says WYO-gold co-chair Raleah Cisneros, a business administration senior from Gillette, Wyo. “I loved the different aspects of it—the giving back, the networking with other students and alumni, and promoting Poke Pride on campus.”

“We try to show students there’s a million ways to give back,” says Chase McNamee, UW Alumni Association senior membership, network and student programs coordinator.

WYO-gold members, now 100 strong, volunteer during career fairs, service days, community events, and campus events and host an annual cleaning supply drive for Brent’s Place, a house in Colorado where immune-compromised children stay with their families during treatment. The drive takes place February through mid-March.

“It’s great to know that we’re helping these children who are ill be able to stay with their families because we’re helping them keep that sterile environment,” Cisneros says. “That’s a big thing that our members love doing.”

Members can earn points for their volunteer work, with the top point earners receiving a textbook voucher.

For Cisneros, the benefit comes from helping others: “I like to see that I’m making a difference in someone else’s life and making them happier.

SLCE

Service, Leadership & Community Engagement

Wyoming Conservation Corps

Focusing on improving Wyoming's public lands.

WYO-gold

Helping current students become student leaders and excel on campus.

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UWyo Magazine
University of Wyoming
Dept. 3226
1000 East University Ave.
Laramie, WY 82071-2000
Phone: 307-766-2379
TTY: 307-766-6729
Email: uwyomag@uwyo.edu

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