Community Service Day started in 2003 as an opportunity for students to fulfill their community service requirements. Three years ago, the Student Activities Office partnered with the WPI Alumni Association in a successful attempt to further involve alumni and their families with WPI and the Worcester area.
“Service to benefit society is an integrated part of the WPI educational experience,” says director of Student Activities Emily Perlow. “It only seems fitting that alumni and students come together in support of WPI’s mission to benefit humanity.”
The volunteers work with a variety of non-profits in the community to identify projects, which are usually kept within walking distance from WPI. This year, the group collaborated with Robert Antonelli Jr., the assistant commissioner of the Parks, Recreation & Cemetery division of the Department of Public Works and Parks in Worcester, to set up a Service Day in Elm Park that will include brush removal, litter pick up, and painting and raking the Frisbee golf course in Newton Hill. The team of alumni, students, and staff will congregate at 8:15 am at the Rubin Campus Center Odeum for registration and a quick breakfast, then head to the park where they will partner with the Friends of Newton Hill to provide cleanup from 9 to noon. They will then return to campus for lunch, and at 12:30 a student group will present their civil engineering MQP to kick off the Alumni Association annual meeting. The project—which was to design and replace the Elm Park red wooden footbridge—is a nice tie-in to the day’s work and allows alumni to get a glimpse of current students’ interests.
“The city does a lot for us,” says executive director of alumni relations and annual giving Peter Thomas. “So this is a great way for us to give back to the city. It’s amazing what 100 people can do in three hours.”
And the numbers just keep climbing. What had been a steady 100 volunteers the past few years has reached close to 150 this time. Participants are even coming from as far as Texas to help give back. Thomas credits the jump in attendees to a longer preparation period, which allowed the Alumni Association’s Board of Directors to reach out to fellow alumni.
“The issue up until last year was that the attending alumni were mostly from the board,” says Thomas. “This year we made personal phone calls to a lot of people to ensure that alumni who are not on the Board will be attending, as well.”
Says president of the Alumni Association Myles Walton, “Getting the ear of alumni is the hard part. I think the story tells itself on why it’s mutually beneficial to give back after that.”
Community Service Day highlights the vital role alumni play in enriching the undergraduate experience. In addition to being networking negotiators with the students, alumni are prominent admission ambassadors, trustees, academic advisory panel participants, mentors for graduating students, and hosts for the new student barbecues.
“Alumni give back financially, but time and talent are just as important a resource that our alumni provide,” says Walton. Adds Thomas, “As we always say, undergrad for four years, alumni for life.”
One of the things students and alumni can agree on is while Community Service Day is a chance to give back to the city, it’s also an opportunity to positively represent WPI and forge a sense of togetherness. Says Walton, “I think people like to be part of organizations that are healthy, growing, andonstantly improving. WPI has all of those qualities, and this day gives an opportunity for both students and alumni to connect.”