MU Office of Community Outreach and Volunteer Services expands horizons


Photo Courtesy of University Communications

Marshall University students participating in the Martin Luther King Day of Service in February, sponsored by the Office of Community Outreach and Volunteer Services.

The Office of Community Outreach and Volunteer Services at Marshall University is working to expand relations between students and issues impacting Huntington and beyond.

Will Holland, director of Community Outreach and Volunteer Services, said the office places a significant amount of value on the student experience in regard to being involved with the community.

“Anything that we can do to facilitate that, we’re all about,” Holland said. “Students should start thinking of my office as a resource; they’re welcome here anytime.”

Holland said the office’s new vision will focus on three main components: regional impact, social change and educating and empowering.

“Regional impact is the pillar in which this office has traditionally been associated with,” Holland said. “If a student wants to volunteer in any way, I’d like to be able to do all the legwork for that student, make all the phone calls, that kind of thing.”

Holland said while doing good for the community is important, he believes the office can provide much more to students.

“There’s a lot of attention on inequality, social injustice, shedding light on certain issues and creating awareness movements, and young people or college students are leading the charge in a lot of these things,” Holland said. “How my office can better facilitate that is something that I’ve been thinking about.”

Holland said the social change component might include advocacy training or other tools to help students lead the way for movements on campus.

“A lot of our students may or may not know how to reach out to their Congress person, how to peacefully assemble or how to start a petition,” Holland said. “Things like that really can have a long lasting impact on social issues, but maybe they just don’t have the tools or the know-how to go about that. They’re going to bring the passion, I just want to bring them the know-how and knowledge, and I think that would be a really cool way to work together.”

Holland said there will be specific programming regarding certain hot topics around the world, which will be chosen by a select group of students.

“Right now, it could be anything from climate to what’s going on in the Middle East to police brutality, and it’s important for us to discuss them but also be able to see all sides of an argument and see why people stand on different sides,” Holland said. “In that, I don’t think it’s right for me as one person to say, ‘Hey guys, these are the issues that Marshall University is going to cover, this is what should be important to you.’ I don’t think that’s right, so one of the things that the office is creating is a brand new program in which we are starting a panel or council of students who would apply to be part of this.”

Holland said he hopes to choose six to nine students, who will be selected through an application and interview process.

“It’s going to be a small, select group that are passionate, well-informed, diligent and recommended,” Holland said. “They’ll serve as the pulse of the students, so it’s the students having a voice on those certain issues which I think is very important.”

Holland said the final component, educating and empowering, will bring programming to campus which will focus on interaction and empathy building.

“The key word here for me is empathy,” Holland said. “If we can think outside of ourselves and think of what it’s like to be in a situation we’re not very familiar with, if we can start building on that skill, that is something that will make us better people long after we graduate.”

Holland said the office is also looking to expand their horizons by providing ‘Days of Service’ twice each academic year, helping with different drives each month and providing alternative trips for students to attend over breaks.

“Our alternative breaks, our service trips, will fall under the educate and empower component because we need to go into it not thinking, ‘We’re going to go save this place,’ but acknowledging that this is going to be a growing and learning experience for us,” Holland said. “So while there, we can think, ‘How can I learn to empathize and help others?’”

Holland said while the office is looking toward a domestic trip for fall break, students can expect a trip to Puerto Rico for spring break 2019.

Holland said the need for these kind of activities outside of academics is becoming increasingly important for college students.

“The value of an education is still very important, but where more and more people are getting their degrees, there has to be differentiating factors,” Holland said. “A student now is expected to have more on his or her resume than a student may have had in decades prior, so that’s what we want each Marshall student to have is a well-rounded experience as a student.”

Holland said volunteering also helps students network within their community and build a list of references.

“I would love to just make service a bigger part of the culture here,” Holland said. “There’s enough people on this campus that we can take some of this community’s biggest challenges and really have some significant impacts on it.”

Hanna Pennington can be contacted at [email protected].