Profiles In Civic Engagement: Lucy Volland

Year: Senior
Major: Bioengineering

How did you first get civically engaged at Binghamton University? 
I first became involved in civic engagement following the September 2011 flood. I was personally moved by the event so I initiated contact with the MacArthur School, an elementary school that was completely flooded. I began volunteering individually and I contacted the CCE to help me gather more volunteers to help the school regain function and some sense of normalcy. I was taking one of my required Bioengineering classes (Professional Skills III) at the time, taught by Leanne Lesperance, which required a Service Learning Project. I was able to incorporate the volunteer work I was doing on my own with this project. Once the CCE's Flood Recovery & Response class became available I jumped at the chance to take it, considering I was already involved and very interested in the community's reaction to the flooding disaster. I was able to include many classmates in the volunteer activities I organized for the MacArthur School, and therefore was able to extend my project. 

What kinds of service experiences have you had here, and what organizations have you worked with?
Most of my volunteer work revolved around the September 2011 flood, particularly partnering with the MacArthur School. Through that project alone I worked with various organizations, even some as far away as Ithaca. This included Greek Life organizations, sports teams, and of course, the CCE. Besides that, I founded and currently preside over Binghamton University's Innovation & Entrepreneurship Club. Our vision for the club is to unite like-minded students who are interested in changing the world with innovative ideas. I also have volunteered with the Society of Women Engineers and the Binghamton Bioengineers. 

I also had an internship with the Broome County Department of Health, in the Lead Poisoning Prevention Program (an opportunity I learned about through the Flood Recovery course) which provided me a long-term opportunity to become engaged in the community. Through this experience I went into homes and apartments of local Binghamton residents to help test their homes and educate the residents about the dangers of lead poisoning, and how to prevent it. This was an extremely eye-opening experience for me, as there is nothing like stepping foot into a home of a stranger, and seeing the world through their eyes, even if only for a few minutes. These experiences were often shocking, and sometimes very upsetting, but always extremely enlightening. 

What have you gained from these experiences?
I am a strong proponent of Service-Learning Projects and community service because of the way I have seen it affect my own development as a person and as a student during my time at Binghamton University. My experience helping in classrooms at the MacArthur School not only introduced me to the real issues of public education systems, but also allowed me to think about the flood's impact through the eyes of a child whose school, home, and family were entirely disrupted. 

I got an even closer look at the lives of these children and families through my internship experience. I am from a small town near Rochester, NY and I did not grow up around much diversity, in terms of race, wealth, health, or lifestyle. Spending time in the homes of people who were sometimes unemployed or lacked professional skills, but supporting more than 10 children, was extremely eye-opening, to say the least. I learned about the factors that may cause someone to find themselves unexpectedly destitute, and I became increasingly interested in helping these people. 

As a Bio-engineering major many of my classes focus on innovative design and entrepreneurship, and I hope to start my own business before I graduate in May. The experiences that I had while engaging in community service, including Service-Learning, have driven me to launch a venture that helps others. The people that I have met through these experiences are always in my mind as I pursue my dream of launching a business. There is no doubt that my perspective has changed dramatically because of the service projects I have been a part of. 

Why do you think it is important for students to become civically engaged through volunteerism, internships or Service-Learning courses?
1. It provides on-the-job training that students have trouble finding elsewhere. It is often hard, in this economy, to find internships, apprenticeships, etc., and volunteering can easily provide a similar experience. What is really valuable about these experiences is learning how to communicate in a professional setting, learning how the "real world" works, and networking. All of these things can be accomplished through volunteer work. 

2. It helps students connect with the community. This has a two-fold benefit, to the student and to the community. The student feels more at home, and the community becomes more open to interaction with students. I personally began feeling much more connected to Binghamton after spending time with local residents and "walking in their shoes". 

3. It can give students new ideas about how to apply the knowledge they are learning in school. They might learn about a profession they haven't thought of, or they might meet someone in a field related to their major who could provide them with insight or help them explore career options. Just as importantly, they might find out that a profession they were considering is actually not what they expected. This can help students make hard decisions about their future.

Service-Learning projects can be invaluable to students for these reasons. Not all students are proactive in their search for volunteer opportunities, but many will flourish if given easier access to community service activities or being required to get involved through their coursework. In my experience, students in Service-Learning courses not only become more involved in the community, but in their course material as well. Allowing them to apply what they've learned in the classroom to community settings is so beneficial to their own lives and education.

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