A Community SERVey

This October, SERV sent out a survey asking Oliners to describe their experiences with community service, both before coming to Olin and after. We’ve heard repeatedly that people want to do more to interact with communities outside The Bubble, but “doing more” can be a big challenge when we already do so much. We hoped to use people’s experiences and responses to think about how to make community service more accessible and appealing to a broader cross-section of Olin students, and also better-support all the students who already do community service here.

Thanks to the 58 students who filled out the survey – the results are in!

If logistics (like transportation) didn’t matter, how often would you see yourself doing a community service activity?
48% of respondents said they would like to do a community service activity either every week or every other week. Another 24% would be interested in doing monthly community service. The vast majority of respondents do want to find a way to fit community service into their schedules; from their answers to the question, “describe your community service experience,” we know that most haven’t found that way yet.

Logistically, what kinds of service opportunities appeal to you?
The two top choices here were short, low-level commitments on campus (73% of respondents were interested) and afternoons off-campus (71%).

What kinds of community issues interest you? (Check all that apply)
Unsurprisingly, the top choice here is STEM Tutoring – 70% of respondents would be interested in this option. This is also the option that might already be best-covered by existing clubs on campus like igniteCS or eDisco. The other high percentages included Environment (59%), Food Access (57%), and Olin Community (57%). Other options included animal care, healthy relationships, international issues, developmental disabilities, health care, and elder care, which ranked between 40% and 20%.

What might deter you, or what has deterred you in the past, from getting involved in community service? (Check all that apply)
66% of students cited a lack of time, and 62% cited time conflicts. However, 50% of those surveyed also said that they “don’t know when community service events happen.” Clearly, while rethinking the organizational structure of SERV activities will be useful, more or different publicity is needed as well.

What could SERV do to address these issues?
In addition to the raw data, the SERVey also provided some specific guidelines for what SERV ought to be doing to better support volunteerism and service. Some are more obvious, and just require a bit of organization on our end; others might need more long-term action. Either way, this semester’s and next semester’s SERV teams can try to:
1. Schedule early in the semester:
“Make a schedule of events at the start of the semester and let everyone know what that will be before they commit to other stuff”
2. Provide more infrastructure and logistical support for organizers:
“If all logistics are taken care of, it’d help.”
“the main problem is that setting up service opportunities takes a lot of effort on the organizer’s behalf”
“make the initial process as easy as possible”
3. Publicize events more frequently – many people suggested that we do a monthly newsletter. We do list everything in Frankly Speaking, but it’s worth posting it elsewhere as well!
“flyers in the dining hall about when certain community service events happen, email signups”
“Do more updates on activities that have spots for volunteers”
“IDK man, send out a when to meet?”
4. Organize Olin Van Trainings (75% of respondents did not have a car):
“Olin Van training has historically been difficult to arrange.”
“If y’all could get me van trained I’d be happy to drive to events!”
5. Organize more, and potentially different, activities:
“Present more opportunities that are less physically demanding.”
“Have a wider variety of service opportunities”

So, now what?
We’re really glad to have gotten so much good feedback on what community service could be at Olin. Now’s the fun part: putting ideas into action! If you want to help out, if you’ve got a service project or idea, if you think the ideas we described here are no good, or if you’d just like to express your disappointment in our use of “SERV” puns, we’d love to hear about it at SERV Lunch! Wednesdays, 12:30-1:00 under the clocks. We’ll see you there!

<3 SERV

GCS- What?

You might have noticed that the phrase “GCSP” is popping up much more frequently around campus. GCSP – the “Grand Challenges Scholars Program” – is an initiative started by the college to encourage and support students who are concerned about the world beyond the Olin bubble. Though GCSP began over five years ago, it is only now becoming fully active. It’s a fairly exciting time to be starting a program – Are you interested about global affairs? Sustainability? Social justice? Do you wish you had more chances to talk about these topics? Do you wish you had more time to think and learn about these problems? Do you already feel stretched-thin from your current coursework? Well, you are not alone. Your goals are the goals of GCSP.
Essentially, GCSP is a framework for creating individualized learning plans centered on the major issues you want to solve. That is to say, the goal is to make it easier for students to focus on the issues – social, political, environmental, etc. – that feel meaningful and relevant, without adding tons of extra work to their existing schedules. We’re still trying to figure out how to best accomplish this; some of it involves already-underway curriculum integration (for example, modifying projects to be more relevant in the real world), while some of it involves nudging Olin’s culture. Anyway, if you’re excited about this space and want to learn more, there are some events coming up:
​Interesting Conversations with Olin faculty, staff, and alums. GCSP has been holding these in EH1 on weeknights, or at SLAC, on a semi-regular bi-weekly basis for over four years, and they’ve always provided an excellent opportunity to discuss new ideas about people’s lives at and outside of Olin. At one recent Interesting Conversation, Professor Jason Woodard brought homemade carrot cake and we discussed, among other things, Jason’s globe-trotting adventures and the democratization of higher education.
Council on Foreign Relations conference calls and discussions. Olin has access to the CFR’s bi-weekly academic conference calls, which include 30-minute presentations from experts on given topics and questions phoned in from students. We’ll have some snacks/refreshments, and after the call we’ll keep the discussion going. We think this might provide a good space for students who want to get out of the bubble.
GCSP@Foundry Stand-Up. We’re using the typical two-minute mini-pitch format of Stand-Up Fridays to give students a chance to talk about their goals for making a difference. The prompt is “What will you do to change the world?” This is going to be a really exciting opportunity for people to share their ideas on topics they might not otherwise discuss.
With all of these events, the hope is that we can not only spur on conversations about the issues themselves, but also open up discussion of how the Olin community thinks and talks about these issues. If any of these events seem exciting to you, subscribe to gcsp@lists.olin.edu for more information and updates. Also, if you’d like to get involved with the planning process, come to the student steering meetings on Mondays from 5:30 – 6:00 in CC210!