Roadrunners Serve Boldly

Dalton State knows service outside of the classroom is a critical component of a quality college education. Community service benefits our students and the community just as internships, which I wrote about last month, benefit both our students and community. As a result, we have begun to facilitate and coordinate community service opportunities for our students.

Our students and employees have long engaged in service to this community, but it is often hard to track or measure the impact of their volunteer work. Many of our employees live in this community and engage for their own personal reasons in service through their churches, their children’s schools and their own personal interest organizations. Similarly, many of our students have been active in their communities from childhood.

A little over a year ago, we hired Heather Williams — a Dalton State alumna — who organizes student development activities through civic engagement opportunities such as community service. This allows us to better serve our community and quantify the service activities of our students. As a result of Heather’s outstanding efforts, we are currently partnering with 48 local agencies to help fulfill the needs of our community and beyond.

Local and regional non-profit organizations notify Dalton State of their needs for volunteers, and we provide a mechanism to ensure that our students are made aware of these opportunities and connect them with these organizations and events to fill community needs. This semester alone, we have been able to assist service organizations with more than 110 unique needs, and the semester is not yet over. Between mid-August and the end of October, our students provided more than 2,000 hours of volunteer work in this region. Based on estimates from the National Value of Each Volunteer Hour, this translates to a financial impact of nearly $52,000.

In just the first two months of the semester Roadrunner volunteers served residential students by welcoming them and helping them move into Mashburn Hall; volunteered at Habitat for Humanity; observed 9/11 by prepping fall garden plots at Lakeshore Park; assisted with a voter registration drive on campus; repaired trails on Roan Mountain, served at Chattanooga’s Ronald McDonald House; and worked at a Nashville disaster relief facility packing 560 cleaning buckets and 296 personal care boxes.

Just as internships are a win-win-win proposition for students, the college and our community, these service opportunities are similarly useful to all parties involved. Even as we hope to ensure that our students graduate with a basic knowledge of core subjects along with a deeper understanding of their area of career focus, we also want to ensure that they are prepared to engage as active members of society. In fact, our mission statement reads, in part: “Through challenging academics and rich collegiate experiences, we promote lifelong learning, active leadership and positive contributions in Northwest Georgia and beyond.”

Engaging beyond the classroom in internships, service projects and other extracurricular activities helps prepare students to become leaders in their communities and at their places of employment. A college education is more than a transcript of courses and grades. Students who participate in activities outside their coursework are better prepared to become responsible parents, informed voters and community leaders.

One of the strongest indicators of a healthy community is one in which the local residents are engaged in service within that community. At Dalton State, we recognize that we have an obligation to give back to the community that supports us. We do that by producing graduates who are able to fill the jobs of our region and who will engage actively in the leadership and service needed in our community. In turn, a better community improves the attractiveness for students and employees to choose Dalton State as their first-choice destination college.

We say at Dalton State we “Run Boldly.” I would add that we also Serve Boldly, and we believe in our Greater Dalton community. If you have opportunities for our students to earn volunteer service hours, please email Heather Williams at [email protected].