Answering a call to service

by Zach James & Peter KaspariStaff Writers

An upcoming forum event featuring a recent Simpson College alumna is bringing attention to all of the service opportunities afforded to students at the college.

Nicole Cleveringa, a 2008 graduate, will be speaking on Nov. 12 about her experiences with Teach for America, an institution that aims to educate urban and rural school children across the nation.

Cleveringa first heard about Teach for America during her freshman year at Simpson.

“I kind of had it in the back of my mind for awhile,” Cleveringa said. “I knew that it would be a good chance to make a difference in the U.S.”

Although she said the work is very challenging, Cleveringa added that the opportunities with Teach for America have made a difference for not just the children she teaches, but also in herself.

“It’s been a life-changing experience, and it has changed me for the better,” Cleveringa said.

Teach for America is just one of many service opportunities that are available to seniors upon their graduation from Simpson. On the web site for Simpson’s service hub, many civic engagement opportunities, including AmeriCorps, the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, and the Peace Corps are listed.

The Center for Integrative and Vocational Learning is responsible for presenting service opportunities for all students.

“In the time that we’ve been here with the Lilly Grant, we’ve cooperated with Peace Corps and AmeriCorps to promote those as one possible way for people who are graduating to think about giving a year or two of their life to serve their country or to serve their neighbor and maybe build their skill set, and to give them time to think about what’s next,” Jim Hayes, associate academic dean and director of CVIL, said.

Although CVIL itself is still a fairly new program affiliated with the college, Simpson’s dedication to service has been in place for years, Hayes said.

“This place has always had a commitment to civic engagement, citizenship and serving the common good,” Hayes said. “If you look at mission statements and the history of the college, or things like Campus Day which have been around for such a long time as far as this culture of concern for the other.”

During the 2008-09 academic year alone, students at Simpson completed 47,517 hours of service. Students supported through CVIL included 76 Wesley Service Scholars, six Lilly Interns, and 11 volunteers in the Iowa Campus Compact AmeriCorps Program.

Simpson alumna Heather Bardole is the current Iowa Campus Compact AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteer assigned to Simpson.

“I really enjoy volunteering, and I thought, ‘What better way to spend my year off from school than giving back in some way,'” Bardole said. “I especially enjoy the opportunity to do my service at Simpson because it’s a way I can give back to the community I’ve been a part of for four years.”

Bardole first learned about the VISTA program during her sophomore year of college.

“I do recruiting for volunteering for local charities,” Bardole said. “I also send e-mails about the need for volunteers and try to recruit students and assist in large group volunteer opportunities like first-year-service-orientation day and MLK Day observance, and then I also do data collection on service hours.”

Bardole said the process to become a VISTA volunteer is similar to applying for any job.

“You can sign up for it online and browse by state or by subject matter,” Bardole said. “They have everything from working with inner city kids to environmental positions.”

According to Bardole, VISTA is not as “hands-on” as programs.

“VISTA focuses on capacity-building of the organization with which they’re working, such as getting grant money and creating sustainability within the organization,” Bardole said.

Hayes noted that students seem to be more service oriented because of the changing philosophy of the education system.

“A large number of educational systems have started incorporating service learning (and) volunteering into their curriculum and recognizing that experiences like that outside the classroom can enrich what they’re doing inside the classroom,” Hayes said. “Even in the time I’ve been doing this work, the number of campuses that have joined the Campus Compact has almost doubled.”