Boston College was awarded the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll of 2014 in recognition for its outstanding participation in community service and specifically Appalachia, the Neighborhood Center, and the service-learning program, PULSE. The award makes BC part of a community of over 750 colleges and universities that have shown their belief in the importance of bettering their communities, according to the National Corporation for National and Community Service.
“This is a designation that universities apply for, really,” said Daniel Ponsetto, the Welles Remy Crowther director of the Volunteer and Service Learning Center (VSLC). “There’s a whole process that the University goes through, to document what our students do, how many of them do it, where they do it, how many hours they do it.”
Volunteer organizations within Boston College such as the VSLC welcome anyone who signs up, but several programs such as 4Boston require applications because they are oversaturated with volunteers. While there seems to be a sense of competition between students to get into specific programs or placements, that belief isn’t completely true, according to Ponsetto. He does believe, however, that sense of competition speaks to the nature of BC’s relationship with service.
“For Boston College, in many ways, I shouldn’t say it’s easy for us, but we do have a good situation here in that so many of our students are looking to engage in some type of volunteer work local, or serve over the course of a semester, or year, or to take a course, that has a service learning component like PULSE,” said Ponsetto.
PULSE is a popular service-learning program that combines theology and philosophy classes with 10 to 12 hours of service per week. Approximately 400 students participate in the program, where they volunteer at placements that include food pantries, correctional facilities, and group homes.
“I think BC students are always very interested in community service, and this is a way for them to academically reflect on what they’re experiencing at their placements,” said Meghan Sweeney, the Cooney director of the PULSE program. “I think that the popularity of the program, that we have a wait-list every year, speaks to the interests and generosity of BC students.”
PULSE is one of the more competitive programs to get into because of the academic portion severely limits the number of spots for students, and there is always a long waitlist over the summer after registration. Sweeney believes that students who are willing to go through the waitlist and the month-long placement selection process are genuinely excited about the service.
“I think that excitement is present, it’s something new, it’s something different, new people, and I think for the most part most students with the exception of just a handful, are really, really, pleased at the end of the school year that they took PULSE,” she said.
While PULSE is directed at the greater-Boston area, the Boston College Neighborhood Center (BCNC) is focused on impacting the neighborhoods of Brighton and Allston that Boston College is located in.
“Our whole mission is based on BC’s mission of ‘men and women for others,’ particular how our charge is to actually provide service opportunities to Boston College students, directly impacting the Brighton/Allston community,” said Maria DiChiappari, director of the BCNC.
Boston College also provides opportunities for students to get out of the city and elsewhere in the country through the Appalachia program that takes students to various parts of the Appalachian region over their Spring Break.
“It’s one of the only programs that doesn’t have an application requirement, and so we’re home to students who are getting their first experiences of service here through Appa,” said Ryan Heffernan, director of Appalachia Volunteers. “In that regard, it’s become home to students who have started or found a passion for service through their work during Spring Break and in some cases on summer trips as well.”
Heffernan said that students go for different reasons, whether it is to experience extreme poverty and make an impact or because they are interested in finding and cultivating deeper connections and friendships with other students. He also said that Appalachia is often a stepping stone for students looking for other service opportunities, noting that students go on to volunteer for other programs such as Arrupe or 4Boston.
“I think the best thing about service, in general but especially at BC, is that it intersects students’ need and desire to experience the social, emotional, and intellectual aspects of education,” Heffernan said. “Service pulls all of that together, and allows us to connect with others in a way that we might not otherwise be privileged to.”
Featured Image Courtesy of Emily Sosrodjojo