Volunteering for credit, good will

Students find a variety of off-campus volunteer opportunities.
February 06, 2013

Emily Tucker spent some of her fall semester in the dirt.

The environmental sciences policy and management sophomore chose to volunteer at Cornercopia, a student-run organic farm on the St. Paul campus, in place of writing a paper for her environmental science course last fall.

“I wouldn’t want to have a volunteer experience at a desk,” Tucker said.

Like Tucker, some University of Minnesota students volunteer to meet course requirements and get field experience. Others volunteer out of philanthropic interest.

Service-learning courses incorporate community involvement into coursework, often pairing volunteer experience with reflection activities.

This semester, Tucker is exercising her green thumb again, volunteering at a St. Paul community garden for another service-learning course. She said she’s required to write journal entries and a final reflection about her experience.

Without these courses, Tucker said she wouldn’t have heard about these opportunities.

Many students use service-learning coursework to gain experience in their field.

Tricia Todd, assistant director of the University’s Health Careers Center,
requires her students to volunteer to see if a career in medicine suits them.

For aspiring medical school students, volunteering in hospitals or other patient care facilities can teach them to understand the patient’s perspective and to better articulate their interest in medicine.

But course requirements are not the only reason students volunteer off campus.

The University YMCA’s pool of student volunteers reflects a range of majors, said Patti Neiman, director of educational efficacy and leadership at the University YMCA.

University students who volunteer at the YMCA travel out to elementary and high schools to mentor students, while others plan programs from the University location.

Working with people from different backgrounds toward the same goal is why kinesiology junior Octavia Cheatom said she volunteers at the University YMCA.

Family social science sophomore Hannah Greely  has been a volunteer at the Ronald McDonald House near the Superblock.

Ronald McDonald House provides lodging for families with children being treated at a Twin Cities-area hospital for a life-threatening illness, said Carynn Roehrick, director of volunteers at the House.

Volunteers — most of whom are from the University, Roehrick said — allow the facility to accommodate 48 families free of charge.

Students volunteer by working in the office, doing light housekeeping and tutoring in the facility’s school. They often work in small shifts to work around their busy schedules, Roehrick said. Student groups have cooked meals for the families or done outdoor landscaping, Greely said.

At least one University student volunteers every weekday at the Richard M. Schulze Family American Cancer Society Hope Lodge, which provides free housing for adult cancer patients traveling to the Twin Cities for treatment, assistant manager Debbie Nelson said.

Students do tasks similar to those at the Ronald McDonald House, while University student groups have hosted on-site events for guests of the Hope Lodge, Nelson said. The University’s men’s gymnastics team hosted a bingo night last month, Nelson said.

About 10 members of the team and one coach attended the event, said gymnast and sports management junior Zack Chase.

Playing bingo and getting to talk with the guests was a great experience, Chase said, and the team is planning to return this month.

Psychology junior Hami Lee was required to volunteer a minimum of 20 hours for a psychology course last fall.

Representatives from local charities visited Lee’s psychology class to talk to students about some options for volunteering.

Lee chose to do art projects with kids through Free Arts Minnesota because she wanted to work with kids and the shifts fit her schedule.

Although her class is over, Lee signed a one-year contract with FAM and will continue to work there.

“One semester is kind of short to make a change,” Lee said.

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