Service plays essential role in learning at MU

Online resources like MUServes.com make it easier than ever for MU students to get involved with their community.

You made it to college. As the wise but troubled Axl Rose put it, “Welcome to the jungle.” As you adjust to all the new people and scenery, it's easy to fall into the pattern of class, dinner, party, repeat. However, you will soon discover that campus is alive with opportunities to serve others.

The main reason you've packed up your 18 years of life and settled down in the middle of Missouri is to further your education. College is a time for serious hard work and study. It will also likely be the social highlight of your life — a time to remember fondly when you're 45 years old and your dreams are shattered — but there is more to it than that.

You are living on your own as an adult for the first time, and you start to take inventory of your life, asking those big questions. Who am I? What do I want? College is about finding yourself, defining who you will become for the rest of your life and, as Mohandas Gandhi once said, the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.

MU provides many opportunities to enrich yourself and build character in this way, and if you don’t take advantage of them now, in 20 years you’ll wish you had. Not to mention, involvement on campus looks great on a resume (those are super important now).

Learn by doing: Taking your education outside the classroom

In fact, MU thinks volunteering is such an integral part of each student's experience here that it has added community service to the curriculum through the Office of Service-Learning.

Service-learning, as you might have guessed, is the integration of carefully planned service projects into the curriculum of specific courses. This office creates partnerships between MU students and the more than 200 local volunteer organizations to help meet the needs of the community while educating students through service.

According to its website, more than 3,000 MU students serve through the Office of Service-Learning each year, carrying out projects like tutoring, working at animal shelters and even designing websites for local charities.

“By getting involved, you are certain to fulfill an important community need (because we only place students where it has been determined they are needed), as well as learn more about yourself — your interests, goals and what you are capable of,” the website states.

If you are interested in taking courses through the Office of Service-Learning, its website is a great resource. You can feel free to contact the office to find a course that matches your interests, and a full catalog of courses is available on MyZou.

Another great resource the office provides is MUServes.com. This website provides a catalog of service organizations around Columbia. You can browse by your area of interest or search for a specific organization, and all the necessary contact information is right there complete with a description of the organization’s mission and what type of work you can expect if you choose to volunteer. A form to request the work for each organization as academic credit through the service-learning office is also available.

Service is fun: Student orgs lead the way to a brighter future

Of course, service-learning courses won’t always fit into your schedule, and not everyone has time to head off campus for hours each weekend. Luckily, there is a number of student organizations that devote all kinds of time and energy to making it easier for students to serve.

Right around the corner is Step Forward Day, an MU tradition. This one-day service opportunity is geared toward new students as a chance to meet people and get their feet in the water, and as a reward for several hours of work, participants receive breakfast and a T-shirt. This year’s Step Forward Day is Saturday, Aug. 20.

Students involved with Greek Life might consider IFCares, a service initiative of the Interfraternity Council that meets many Saturdays to carry out service projects around Columbia.

Runners might be pleased to know that many student groups hold charity 5K runs on campus, such as Mizzou for Malawi’s Light Up the Night in the spring.

Spring brings many one-time service opportunities. Keep an eye out for Caring for Columbia, a day of service around Columbia similar to Step Forward Day — right down to the free T-shirt.

If you’re looking to raise money for a cause and have fun doing it, MU Dance Marathon and Mizzou Relay for Life are events you won’t want to miss.

Dance Marathon raises money for the MU Children’s Hospital. According to its website, the event raised $47,000 last year and is now in reach of its 5-year $100,000 pledge to the hospital.

Relay for Life is part of a nationwide event that raises money for the American Cancer Society. Last year saw more than 1,000 participants and $65,000 raised.

Both of these events require fundraising beforehand, but the entertainment and satisfaction of the all-night events are well worth it. Fraternities, sororities and many student organizations form teams to participate. If none of those groups apply to you, form a team with other people in your residence hall. You won’t regret it.

Another popular organization is Mizzou Alternative Spring Break. With record participation last year, this group oversaw trips across the continental U.S. to work on everything from a Native American reservation in South Dakota to Florida beaches recovering from the oil spill.

If you’re worried about missing “PCB spring break 2012, y’all,” don’t be. It’s not often you get to ride across the country with 10 strangers and the week, aside from providing valuable service, will likely become one of the most fun and memorable times of your life.

Look for ASB applications online in October or check out its website for more information.

These are just a handful of the opportunities you will find during your time here. Obviously, you can’t do it all, and no one expects that. But it is important during this time to be open to new experiences, whatever form they might take. You might find something you truly love doing, and a lesson in character can go a long way.

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