"Wheeeeeeeeee!," yelled Brianna as she skied down a small hill on the snow-packed golf course. "I've never done this before. It's a lot of fun." A ninth grader at the Indian River School in Canaan, N.H., Brianna was one of eight middle school students to be guided that afternoon by five Dartmouth students, all volunteers for the William Jewett Tucker Foundation's Outdoor Leadership Experience (OLE) program.
"No matter how many tests I have, or papers to write, it's my mandatory fun time for the week," says Eric McFeely '08, co-leader of OLE, which was initiated by a Dartmouth student 10 years ago and is dedicated to building self-esteem, social skills, and leadership abilities among middle school students. "It's rewarding to see how many kids want to join and to hear from parents who say how much it increased their child's confidence."
At colleges across the country, there is increased dedication to service, and Dartmouth students are no exception. Participation is up, applications for some programs are nearly double the number of openings, and there are more volunteer options than ever. "Service on campus is at an all-time high," says Jan Tarjan, a 29-year employee at Tucker and its senior program officer for local service. "Volunteering has always been especially popular among Dartmouth students, and it's a shared value among the student body. It's not a question of whether to do it or not, it's a question of where."
Students volunteer through their fraternities and sororities, athletic teams, the Hood Museum of Art and Hopkins Center for the Arts, or in collaboration with academic departments and the professional schools. But Tucker is the College's flagship center for spiritual exploration and global community service, with 60 percent of students joining its programs annually. Hundreds of students go beyond the Upper Valley to perform service around the country and the world each year, from hurricane-ravaged Biloxi, Miss., or a Native American reservation in South Dakota, to an orphanage in Ethiopia, or a classroom in El Salvador.
Often overlooked, however, is the amount of local service—about 30,000 hours worth—that more than 1,500 students perform in the Upper Valley every year through the Tucker Foundation. They tutor students in classrooms, serve as big brothers and big sisters, prepare and eat meals with community members, volunteer in a prison, assist the elderly, prepare adults to take the General Equivalency Test, build affordable houses, and organize Special Olympics events.
As director of The Haven, a shelter for homeless families in the Upper Valley, Tom Ketteridge works with Dartmouth students who tutor school-aged children at the shelter. "The work the tutors are doing is the most important work we're doing here," he says. "They are helping these kids be better students, and they're making them think more boldly about their potential and future." Ketteridge notes that the seven-year-old tutoring program is nearly self-perpetuating, because Dartmouth students come back year after year and spread the word among other students.
Though Tucker is the hub that helps spread this goodwill, the fuel for it all begins with the undergraduates, who also have their steady educational, athletic, and extracurricular commitments. So why do they do it? Kyle Engelman '08, Tucker's student director, explains: "I worked hard to get to Dartmouth, but at the same time, I feel privileged to be here. I know how much I've been given, and I want to give something back."
Stuart Lord, dean of the Tucker Foundation and associate provost, says former Dartmouth President William Jewett Tucker (1893-1909) said it best when he stated, "Do not expect to make a lasting impression on the world through intellectual power without the use of an equal amount of conscience and heart." Lord says: "I'm proud to work at Dartmouth, where every day I see these students take their talents, abilities, and idealism and make things happen. Lives are being changed."
By STEVEN J. SMITH
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Last Updated: 5/30/08