Middle school students file into a classroom and spread out, sitting at desks and looking around the room with uncertainty plastered across their faces. A group of equally uncertain college students enter, and each sits across from one or two middle schoolers to whom they are assigned.
This scene has played out time and again for years at Arbutus Middle School. It is a natural part of the start to the Arbutus Achievers program, which provides UMBC students a chance to go to a local middle school in Arbutus to tutor students twice a week.
Arbutus Achievers is one of the many service sites coordinated by the Shriver Center, a vital part of UMBC’s campus that works to promote civic engagement between students and their community.
Many people might say that students who take time to actively work for their community’s benefit are being altruistic. Those people would be wrong.
Altruism is the practice of disinterested or selfless concern for the well-being of others. There is no way that altruism alone drives the UMBC students who participate in service because they have an investment in the impact they have on the world around them, and they agree that they reap enormous benefits from service.
UMBC’s volunteers have a genuine concern for the well-being of others, but they gain too much to feel that the term selfless describes them. Aniruddha Rao, a junior biology major and student coordinator for Arbutus Achievers said, “The reward is right there almost as soon as you go there. You go there, you look at the problem, you look at the confusion in their eyes and after about an hour, or a few hours or many hours you see the light of understanding in their eyes.
“They have an a-ha moment, and that’s what makes me keep coming back again and again. That’s what I keep pursuing.” Rao added that, “While school allows you to develop academically, service allows you to develop personally, spiritually. It allows you to become more human.”
That personal development and the building of skills that allow people to relate to one another is an intrinsic benefit of the service in which students participate.
Joby Taylor, director of the Shriver Peaceworker Fellows Program, connects undergraduate and graduate students with community partners. “The model that the Shriver Center works on is a sense of community, collaboration and mutuality,” he said.
He added, “As university students, service is linked to learning about the world and learning about particular curricula first hand. I think of service as really an opportunity to connect with people.”
Dr. Taylor wanted to dismantle the notion that service is a one-sided affair, where a savior rides in on a white horse to help the simple townspeople, saying, “Service can be a pathway to learning through experience, and you can often gain more than you contribute from being of assistance to others and collaborating in mutual ways.”
Students engaged in service seem to agree that the myriad of personal benefits make their contribution worth it.
There are many service sites that could use more volunteers. Those who have not experienced them should try working at one of these sites and reaping the rewards as they work to get out and make a difference in their world.