OSWEGO — SUNY Oswego, recipient five years ago of the prestigious Carnegie Community Engagement Classification, retains the designation on the new list of just 361 colleges and universities nationwide for 2015.
The tribute from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching recognizes colleges and universities that deeply intertwine community engagement in their leadership, curriculum, outreach programs, strategic planning and community partnerships.
The significant national laurel has helped drive Oswego to continue expanding student community service and service learning opportunities and participation, according to Christy Huynh, associate director of career services.
“The honor itself helps to remind us this is a priority,” Huynh said. “Community service and service learning have the support of the organization here from the top down, both personally and institutionally. It’s embedded in the culture of the college.”
Joshua Drake, a senior biology major, considers it a privilege to be a part of SUNY Oswego’s tradition of community service. He has volunteered for service projects since his freshman year, weaving volunteerism into the fabric of his college experience.
“What I find in volunteerism is students come in with preconceived notions that it’s an obligation or that they must do these hours for an internship or course credit,” said Drake, president of SUNY Oswego’s chapter of Habitat for Humanity. “Then what I’ve found is people have a transformation of some sort. It stops being about the hours very quickly.”
‘Opened my eyes’
Drake said he has had rich experiences during his time at Oswego, among them two Alternative Winter Break trips to high-need urban areas in New Jersey, Habitat for Humanity projects in Hastings and Oneida, and volunteer work for Oswego Health’s community center and hospital emergency room.
He has assisted a variety of people, from preschoolers with learning disabilities to an older couple burned out of their home.
“You find out a lot about yourself,” the Fulton native said. “Being a volunteer opened up the world to me. It opened my eyes and shed new light on the blessings I have. It makes it easier to handle stresses in your own life.”
The college’s Center for Service Learning and Community Service coordinates programs and courses that are responsible for tens of thousands of volunteer hours annually around the region, according to Alyssa Amyotte, the office’s coordinator.
Nationally and globally, dozens of SUNY Oswego students volunteer annually during winter and spring breaks that benefit communities from Atlantic City to Omaha, from El Salvador to the Dominican Republic.
Among other programs, Adopt-A-Grandparent teams more than 160 students with senior citizens in care facilities throughout Oswego County for activities, shows, games and a gala annual dinner dance. Scores of college students volunteer in Mentor Oswego programs at three schools in the Oswego City School District and two in Fulton, along with Hannibal Middle School and the Oswego Salvation Army, providing tutoring and mentoring to hundreds of children.
Courses geared toward service learning or with a community-service component — including programs in all-freshman Johnson Hall and Hart Hall Global Living and Learning Center — continue to expand, Amyotte said.
The college also maintains partnerships with other community efforts, such as the BOCES Migrant Education Outreach Program.
Student groups play a big role in community service as well, Huynh said.
Besides Habitat for Humanity, the Red Cross Club sponsors more than a dozen blood drives on campus annually, responsible for donations of hundreds of units of blood. Colleges Against Cancer helps organize a big Relay for Life fundraiser. Organizations across campus sponsor an annual bingo night to benefit human services organizations and relief efforts.
The continued investment in community service opportunities across the college and beyond should stand Oswego in good stead with the Carnegie Foundation in a few years, Huynh said.
A December letter from the foundation confirmed that the Community Engagement Classification’s already high bar will continue to rise for institutions that aim to hold on to the designation in 2020, demanding “deeper, more pervasive, better integrated and sustained” community-service commitments.