June 09, 2010
Before Rollins College, Priyanwada “Pri” Ekanayake (Class of 2009) never categorized herself as an “environmental activist.” But as part of her work in EcoRollins, she helped spearhead an on-campus solar panel project and a student bike program. She worked directly with Rollins President Lewis Duncan to help pass the initiatives. So, when it came time to choose a career path, the pre-med major decided to become an educational volunteer in AmeriCorps for the Heifer Ranch in Perryville, Arkansas. The ranch works to end world hunger by providing sustainable gifts of livestock and agricultural training to economically underserved people around the world.
While as a Cornell scholar—the most prestigious scholarship available at Rollins—Ekanayake was expected to fulfill service, she credits volunteering at Rollins with sparking her interest in “on-the-ground” environmentalism and wanting to make a difference.
“As a biology major, I learned how plants grow and cells work. But there was a human component missing,” she said. “Rollins taught me more than academics. It taught me about life enrichment – and the human side of biology, which helped me to develop a future that I was excited about.” She hopes to pursue a graduate degree in environmental science in order to serve a nonprofit like the Heifer Ranch in the future.
According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, Ekanayake isn’t alone – volunteerism among college students increased by 20 percent from 2002 to 2005. Studies have also found that when Generation X college seniors named their ideal employers, for-profit businesses (e.g., Microsoft, Cisco) were at the top of their lists. But when the Millennial Generation was asked the same question 10 years later, they listed Teach for America and the Peace Corps as their employers of choice.
So it’s no surprise that a growing number of Rollins graduates have taken their service- learning experiences, which is core to Rollins mission, and incorporated them into their life course.
Catching the Service-Learning Bug
Psychology major Patrick McKelvey (Class of 2009) said he caught the “service-learning bug” early in his freshman year at Rollins through his work with the Office of Community Engagement (OCE) and participating in events like the annual Hunger Banquet, Halloween Howl and Holiday FunFest. His involvement with Dance Marathon in particular—raising money for hospitalized children as part of the Children’s Miracle Network—was one of the reasons he became a coordinator for the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Florida.
“The service-learning experiences with children and family advocacy issues directly translate into the career I wanted to pursue,” said McKelvey.
“Working with Rollins’ Office of Community Engagement taught me to leverage the skills I was learning inside and outside of the classroom and apply them to the world’s greatest needs.”
The 23-year-old said that there’s been a shift of what “getting involved” means for Generation Y.
“For Rollins, it’s not a ‘white glove handout’ type of engagement. It’s more than going to a soup kitchen and serving,” he said. “It’s asking the tough questions about why these people are hungry. It’s not only about donating—it’s about changing.”
An Attitude of Activism
Recent Rollins graduate Kristin Schendel is currently employed as a communication specialist for Family Services of Metro Orlando. She also credits the Community Engagement Office with reinforcing the idea of an “attitude of activism” as a lasting lifestyle.
“I’ve always felt that our purpose in the world is to look beyond ourselves,” said Schendel. “I know that my experience at Rollins—from SPARC day during freshman year … to the Rollins Relief trip in New Orleans … to Saturday Sharing with the Homeless … to my internship at the Christian Service Center – truly influenced my decision to work in this nonprofit environment.”
One of the “ah ha” service-learning moments that Schendel points to is when she was playing with about 20 foster kids from the Children’s Home Society on Mills Lawn.
“I remember asking one of the little girls how she was doing—and she told me a story about some of the difficult things she had gone through,” she said. “This experience changed my perception of understanding and taught me that although we can’t give every story a ‘happily ever after’ ending, we do have the power to help people shape the middle of their story, which can make a difference.”
Each of these students came from different backgrounds and majors, but they were all able to take what they were passionate about and mold it into their career experience – using their community service work at Rollins as a springboard. To learn more about the Office of Community Engagement at Rollins, visit http://www.rollins.edu/communityengagement/.
|AmeriCorps||441,000 more young adults (ages 16-24) volunteered in 2008 than 2007, representing an increase from about 7.8 million to more than 8.2 million|
|Peace Corps||More than 18 percent increase in applications from 2008 (13,011) to 2009 (15,386)|
|Teach for America||Showed a 29 percent increase in applications from 2008 to 2009. In 2009, the organization had a record 35,000 applicants and placed 4,100 new teachers.|