It’s no secret that Wingate encourages students to embrace a lifestyle of service. While not everyone crosses the commencement stage with a full-on Mother Teresa mentality, students who see the University’s “faith, knowledge, service” motto lived out are prone to put their skills to work for others.
Hundreds volunteer during One Day, One Dog each spring and show up each fall for United Way’s Day of Caring; in between, student organizations, sports teams and Global Perspectives (GPS) classes complete projects around the corner and across the globe.
It’s a lot of activity to track and impact to measure. And yet, that documenting combined with effectively matching community needs with skilled and willing hands is what it takes to make a culture of community engagement sustainable. Enter a $25,000 Jessie Ball duPont Fund grant and an unapologetically enthusiastic grant administrator, and you have the makings of an ever-growing web of beneficial connections.
“Wingate is becoming a hub for connecting all our partners with each other and our campus,” says Catherine Wright, assistant religion professor and sustainability guru, as she explains the University’s new Partnership Portal. Created via a Galaxy Digital software platform called Campus Connect, the portal is a website that will enable partners to reach potential volunteers, students to find service opportunities easily, and faculty members to build those opportunities into their courses to help turn pen-and-paper assignments into true service-learning.
Just a small part of the grant’s provisions, the Partnership Portal will be a game-changer, according to Wright.
“It’s very easy to use and it allows every group, from businesses to non-profits, healthcare organizations, to have their own space to share their projects and needs for volunteers or interns,” Wright says. “The tool also gives students a super simple way to find all sorts of volunteer opportunities that suit their interests and to be autonomous about it.”
Anyone can sign on as a user of the portal, which tracks hours as soon as volunteers check in at a work site. It also stores data so that students, at the touch of a button, can print their service resumé as a complement to their college transcript.
“Also, we can go into the portal and find out how many students we have volunteering and what is the cumulative impact of this service,” Wright says.
“Another fun facet of this is that, since the portal is public, when students show up to serve, they could be working alongside other students or alumni or other community members that they wouldn’t have met otherwise, but there they are shoulder-to-shoulder. So it expands the concept of One Dog.”
The duPont grant is also being used to fund faculty and student fellowships. Two-person teams are tasked with interviewing key community stakeholders and gathering ideas about how we all could work together more effectively.
“A big goal of the fellowship program is to find out more about our community – how we can support them and how they can support us. We want to find out first what are their strengths and assets, then what do they need in the way of support and resources,” Wright says. “We also want to find out what inspires them, very specifically, and what their aspirations are, where they see themselves going.”
Fellowships have been awarded to Eva Baucom, program compliance director for the School of Pharmacy, and second-year pharmacy student Nam Le, and to lab manager Todd Griffin and outreach and support coordinator Tim Myers. While Baucom and Le will reach out to healthcare, education and small-business entities, Griffin and Myers will meet with representatives from larger businesses, entrepreneurs and science and technology partners. Wright will continue her work with churches and other nonprofits.
She says often agencies are so busy trying to meet client needs that they don’t have time to track and document their impact, which means they are at a disadvantage when it comes to applying for grants.
“Tracking and documenting impact, that is what many of our faculty and students are trained to do, so if we can partner with the right people, we can alleviate the pressure on these agencies and help them be more successful just by offering the skill set we already have,” Wright says. She also points out the flipside of the coin: Partnerships give Wingate students opportunities to apply what they are learning in class and broaden research horizons for faculty.
Fellows and community stakeholders will share findings April 18 at a daylong ROOTS Summit (Recognizing Our Opportunities To Share). Also at the summit, eight faculty members who have been named Sustainability Associates will offer proposals for new sustainability projects, pedagogy or curricula. Associates are Allison Kellar, Suzanne Wolf, Kaitlyn Perry, Jason Joyner, Rebecca Cottenoir, Charlene Bregier, Christy Cobb and Jordan Wilson.
- Faculty Spotlight