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Finding Time for Service
There is such a rich history of service and civic engagement at Ohio Northern University. When he founded ONU in 1871, Henry Solomon Lehr envisioned a University where its graduates would take their skills and knowledge out into the community, region, nation and the world to serve the greater society.
Service and giving back are important parts of who we are today at ONU. Our service mission is really a part of the broader educational mission. While we want our students to be successful and make significant contributions to their professions, we also encourage them to be actively involved in their communities and work to make those communities better places.
ONU’s practice-based professional programs lend themselves well to service learning. Many faculty have built service and community outreach into the curriculum. Projects like EPICS, HealthWise, Life Works, SMArts, STEM 2 STEM, the Legal Clinic, Operation Immunization as well as many senior capstone projects are designed to meet identified civic and community needs. They also provide students with hands-on practical experience related to their academic majors.
Community service and volunteerism are also important parts of life outside the classroom. ONU students are making a difference and helping to solve real-life problems in the village of Ada, Hardin County, west central Ohio and the world. Some examples include building a house with Habitat for Humanity, volunteering for Relay for Life, delivering a meal, calling on a lonely senior, helping with health screenings, collecting toys for children in need, working in the local community garden, tutoring, providing one-on-one music instruction for underprivileged youth, serving food at the local food pantry, and cleaning up the village park.
Although service activities are numerous and varied, there is more that we can do to identify additional opportunities to serve, to be more civically engaged and to connect more students to community organizations that need assistance.
In the past two years, I have discovered a keen interest on the part of ONU students to serve and engage with the community, and I have learned that community and regional organizations offer untapped opportunities for service and service learning.
Yet, finding service opportunities that match student interests and schedules is not always easy. In addition, engaging students early in their academic career, especially freshmen, is challenging because they are unfamiliar with the local and regional communities. To meet this challenge, we launched a new initiative last year as part of freshmen orientation. Called Ada Community Engagement (ACE) Day, it was designed to introduce incoming students to Ada and the many ways they can reach out, connect with the local community and make a difference in people’s lives.
Organized by Student Affairs, ACE Day was service on a grand scale, with more than 300 students volunteering to spend an afternoon making a difference in the village of Ada, their new home. Students scraped and painted; cleaned yards, parks and other public spaces; gave manicures at the local nursing home; and distributed food at the food pantry. With about 42 projects completed, ONU freshmen left the Ada community a little better than they found it that day.
This fall, the Chaplain’s Office will roll out a new online web portal that will help us connect students and student groups with volunteer and community service opportunities in Ada and the surrounding communities. Nonprofits and community-based organizations will be able to use the new digital tool, called Get Connected ONU, to post and advertise volunteer and service opportunities. Students will be able to search the website for opportunities that match their interests and talents. Faculty who require community service projects will now have a means of matching specific learning outcomes with community needs and tracking student volunteer hours.
The years that students spend at ONU are a time of discovery, change and transformation. We want them to learn firsthand that they can make a difference through service. We want them to be not just scholars but citizen scholars, to be able to recognize community needs and issues and be willing to act on them. At Northern, we encourage students to get involved, find time for service and make it a part of their lives. In so doing, our students can act on the words of John Wesley, the founder of the United Methodist Church, who said, “Do all the good you can, to all the people you can, in all the places you can.” Above all, ONU students learn the power of doing good.
Chris Burns-DiBiasio, ONU's first lady, also serves as director of community relations.