The Colgate Scene
November 2001

A home for service

The COVE staff - Co-directors Marnie Terhune and Adam Weinberg (left and right) and Betsy Levine '01 (center), who served as intern during summer 2001.

"I think the COVE represents everything that's right about Colgate," declares Adam Weinberg, associate professor of sociology. "Student initiative. A sense of community. Intellectual rigor. Breaking down barriers. Asking more of ourselves."

Last year, a student trio's enthusiasm and initiative confirmed -- and provided a fresh impetus for -- what many folks at Colgate already felt was both needed and an opportunity to build on a campus tradition: a central physical location where service, learning and citizenship could be emphasized and fostered.

Jenny Buntman '03, Adrienne LaGier '01 and Betsy Levine '01 had approached Weinberg, a vocal proponent of community service, "about their interest in taking the tremendous momentum of Volunteer Colgate (the umbrella group for campus service organizations) to the next level. They did a ton of research, looking at about 50 college service programs across the country, and then they wrote an incredible strategic plan for Colgate," he explains.

Their plan took hold at all levels of the college, but with specific support and encouragement from Interim President Jane Pinchin. In September, the Center for Outreach, Volunteerism and Education in East Hall became the place where students and faculty can change the world through community service and political citizenship.

"One of our mantras is a refinement of a statement often made by Catholic Chaplain John Donovan," explains Weinberg, "that a good community service center should put itself out of business by creating communities that have no needs -- only opportunities. I think Colgate is partially in the business to produce leaders. Part of leadership is citizenship, and part of citizenship is about volunteering, but also about thinking critically how our community could be organized so that we wouldn't have service needs."

To that end, the COVE has eschewed a model of simple philanthropy for one of what Weinberg calls "social entrepreneurship."

Rather than give students a place just to do good work, the COVE provides students "the information and resources to identify problems in the community, to creatively pull from their coursework and intellectual skills to devise ways they can be helpful in solving those problems, and then to form alliances with community groups to make those projects happen. We're getting our students to think critically about service."

"Lots of students do service on a one-shot basis," explains Marnie Terhune, who co-directs the COVE with Weinberg. As former director of student activities, Terhune has long dreamed of a place like the COVE for Colgate. "They think of service as planting a tree on a Saturday afternoon, which is certainly important. But the experience can be much deeper if they think about why the tree needs to be planted. We want them to embed what they're doing in the greater questions of problems that society faces.

"So, when you're a Sidekick to a child from a low-income family, what are the special issues he's facing? It's great to spend an hour playing baseball, but more importantly, you're providing a positive role model and a commitment that child really needs."


David Hale '84, Colgate's financial vice president and treasurer, spoke in the COVE to students about "Finance Careers in Non-profit," as part of the Doing Well by Doing Good career seminar series.
"We want to give students an opportunity to develop lifelong habits of citizenship," Weinberg says. "As a faculty member, I don't want students to think that citizenship is an add-on to what I do when I have time. It's my duty as an American. I make a commitment because I'm a person of privilege, because I live in a democracy, and because people are counting on me. Again, Colgate has historically been concerned with developing those skills in students."

That the COVE is a campuswide endeavor, jointly overseen by a student affairs administrator and a faculty member, makes it unusual among college community service centers. The model allows for a more seamless melding of intellectual and social aspects. And though guided by Weinberg and Terhune, the COVE is largely student run and ties together Colgate's myriad service initiatives and activities in unique ways. Six new programs were rolled out this fall as part of the COVE's inaugural year.

In the academic realm, courses with a service learning component are offered in each division at Colgate, including in six study groups. Students in the fall Russia study group are spending a day a week volunteering at nonprofits in Moscow, including in a Chechnyan refugee orphanage.

In addition, the COVE encourages students to develop their own service learning ideas and provides a list of professors who will work with them on community-based research projects. This semester, students are working with Weinberg in Hamilton for the Partnership for Community Development; in Old Forge for an economic development group with Professor of Geography Ellen Kraly; and on Associate Professor of Economics Jill Tiefenthaler's project tracking people in Madison County who have been pushed off welfare. The COVE can also help seniors develop community-based rather than traditional library-based research projects for their final thesis.

New service learning programs will offer internships tied to spring courses. Starting next summer, through Utica Field School, students will spend four days a week in internships doing essential research for nonprofit organizations and take an academic seminar on Friday mornings.

In student affairs, the newly formed Why Board pulls together all of Colgate's programs that engage in volunteerism, including Volunteer Colgate, Office of Undergraduate Studies, the ALANA Cultural Center, Newman Community, University Church and the Greek system, lending significant oversight, reflection and quality control to activities. There's also a new Progressive Student Network for political groups.

The CAndOO (Community Action Outreach Opportunity) program for first-year students provides a residential component -- students interested in community service live together on the second floor of East Hall, right above the COVE.

In admission, a formal process for recruiting students with community service interests is being developed, and at the other end of a Colgate student's timeline, a new seminar series called Doing Well By Doing Good allows seniors to explore careers in community service and the nonprofit sector.

The COVE concept "allows students to act on social issues about which they feel strongly. They can apply what they've learned in the liberal arts to practical applications of the theory," Terhune explains. "At the same time, they're fulfilling that wish to become involved in a community-based organization."

The COVE is already attracting attention. "We're getting calls weekly from various agencies, programs, housing developments and other groups that need help," says Terhune. And students are "excited by the university's commitment of resources, people and space."

The catastrophe of September 11 became a time for the COVE, in its first days, to act in a significant way. "We collected about $8,000 for the Red Cross and Salvation Army and assembled almost 800 toiletry kits for rescue workers and displaced city residents," Terhune remarked. "We became a place where students could talk about how they were feeling and do something that helped them feel they were not as powerless as we all felt. Longstanding community members who sent in contributions wrote notes saying, `if you ever had a reason to exist, it's now.'"

Terhune notes that the COVE presents many opportunities for alumni, parents and others to get involved as well.

"If people working in the nonprofit and community service sectors want to come and talk about their experiences, we'd love to have them. If they're working in these areas and want to hire an intern or provide an internship, that would be fantastic."

Weinberg reflects, "If you think about it, a student can now come to Colgate, live in a hall with other students interested in community service on top of an innovative community service center, sign up for service learning classes in any division, get involved immediately in 35-plus student groups. Junior year they can go on a study group that's about community service and senior year there's a full-blown program that can help them find broadly conceived careers in community service."

The COVE is pulling it all together.

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