By William Henke | Staff Writer
Community Building Day is a foundational part of the freshman experience at Whitworth University. Freshmen and any other willing students wake up early to help in the Whitworth and greater Spokane community. Some groups stay on campus and work in the Back 40 making trails or preparing the Kipos and Westminster gardens for winter, while other groups spend their time at various Spokane churches, schools and parks.
“[I have] enjoyed doing things like Community Building Day with students just because it gets [students] out of a classroom situation,” said Martha Gady, associate professor of math and computer science. Students spend so much time in classes that getting to go out and do something hands-on is a fantastic way to get new students to open up to one another and foster lasting connections. “I’m a person who likes to do things and get to know people while you’re doing them. I also am an advisor who’s very practical so I like freshmen to do things that might help them later on,” said Gady.
“I’ve always liked Community Building Day. Our recent Community Building Day visits have been directly related to computer science, and most of my students get a lot from working on that day,” Dr. Peter Tucker, professor of math and computer science. Tucker’s freshman seminar section visits Holmes Elementary School and teaches basic coding literacy to young students.
Chin Michiosy, a sophomore bioinformatics major and current Resident Assistant (RA) in McMillan Hall worked on the Whitworth Back 40 trail system during his Community Building Day. “I was upset afterwards when I discovered that other freshmen did other activities that didn’t involve working to that extent. […] I was a little mad that we didn’t have a choice,” said Michiosy. What Michiosy said echoes the two most common complaints amongst students: having to get up at 7:00 a.m. and not getting to choose where they volunteer. “I feel like if we had a decision to choose, I would have been excited to help with picking up trash because littering is one of my pet peeves,” said Michiosy.
“There’s value, but to date it’s been logistically challenging,” said Daniel Geiter, assistant director of the Dornsife Center for Community Engagement (Dornsife Center) and planner for Community Building Day. “Community Building Day is a spreadsheet of nightmares.” Preparations for Community Building Day start right after spring semester concludes. Geiter contacts various partners that have worked with the Dornsife Center in the past to get a grasp on what their interests are, orchestrates with freshman seminar professors and arranges bus schedules before fall semester even starts.
Getting outside of the “pinecone curtain” is an important aspect of being a student at Whitworth. In searching for a job or internship, having a pre-established network with those in the community can be a great benefit. “I like that I was forced to try something new that I wouldn’t have tried unless it was mandatory because I ended up enjoying it,” said an anonymous student. This is part of the goal of Community Building Day: to encourage students to find the best way for them to do good in the world. Community Building Day gives students an avenue to pursue “some of the initial mission to honor God, follow Christ and serve humanity” said Meredith Devey, director of the Dornsife Center for Community Engagement.
According to the Community Building Day 2023 statistics sheet produced by the Dornsife Center, over 30 organizations were served by 849 Whitworth-affiliated volunteers. Together they reached a combined 3,396 hours of service, during which 48 fifth graders were entertained, 530 ponchos were handed out and 58 pounds of produce was harvested. “This year we had 173 people that volunteered for Community Building Day that weren’t required to,” said Devey.
“I don’t know if I’ll participate on Community Building Day, but I do see myself participating in activities that [Dornsife holds],” said Michiosy. He enjoys recognizing people who volunteer in on-campus events like En Christo, and he appreciates building “stronger relationships” with others while in service, said Michiosy. “The volunteering things that I’ve heard of were only because of conversations but I haven’t really seen any posters,” he said. While Whitworth is a small campus, creating resources to make volunteering more visible to students could raise volunteering numbers since the Dornsife Center’s website’s volunteering resources are not very publicized.
While Community Building Day does seem to be a successful avenue for volunteering, certain alterations may make the event more effective. A first alternative could be to make Community Building Day mandatory for all undergraduate students. Although being an overall increase in complexity for the university, “if every student were required to do it, then I think there could be room to manage the logistics better,” said Geiter. By putting more attention on student volunteerism, Whitworth could have an even larger impact on the community and the bandwidth of Community Building Day could be increased so that it does not overwhelm the few people that currently work to put it together. Approaching Community Building Day this way, “we could scale up and offer more broadly” Geiter said. This could solve the issue of students not having any choice in where they volunteer and put more resources toward making Community Building Day less of a “spreadsheet nightmare.”
A second alternative, or rather alteration, for Community Building Day could be placing it in the spring in addition to the fall. “I’d be up for it. I like to find any chance I can to encourage more [computer science] education,” said Tucker. This could allow students the ability to choose their volunteering path best suited for them and their experience. This alternative could also solve the bandwidth problem in a cost-efficient manner since it could give those in charge of the event several months to give the student agency more consideration.
Lastly, increasing the number of service-based courses at Whitworth could make volunteering more accessible. “[Of last year’s graduating students,] 49% […] were in a service-learning course,” said Devey. Service-learning courses incorporate community service into the coursework. “Whitworth’s mission is to equip its students to honor God, follow Christ and serve humanity. Clearly service-learning courses help equip students to serve humanity,” said Tucker. In CS-301 Internet Application Development the final project is to work with a local organization to create an application that fits their needs.
Service projects like this allow students to fully utilize their skills in a way that has a real-world impact. “I want to do one [a service project] for CS-125 which is the Access and Excel class,” said Gady. When given a description of a service course, Michiosy expressed interest in taking any similar classes if he could.
Community Building Day is an effective source of volunteering for Whitworth Students. It serves as a tried-and-true gateway for freshmen students to interact with their peers during a new stage in their lives. While there are a few avenues to making volunteering more visible and prioritized at Whitworth, Community Building Day is certainly not failing in the areas that matter most.