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Volunteering Time, Gaining Recognition

University Earns National Community Service Award

UMass Lowell at Lowell Humane Society
Reach Out River Hawks, a community service group on campus, contributed volunteer hours to UMass Lowell's nationally recognized service record.

By Julia Gavin

Between hitting the books, teaching classes and supporting the University, the students, faculty and staff at UMass Lowell are a busy bunch. But they’re making time to give back and President Barack Obama recently thanked them for it.

For the third consecutive year, UMass Lowell was the named to the President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll, and for the second time, with distinction. The awards, overseen by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), attracted 851 applications with only 110 receiving distinction.

“Our students have doubled their recorded hours of academic and non-academic service in the community from 50,000 to more than 100,000 hours this past year,” says Provost Ahmed Abdelal. “UMass Lowell’s expanded collaborative and academic efforts have provided many opportunities for students to serve locally and globally while completing their coursework. This is learning through experience at its best.” 

Three of UMass Lowell’s notable service projects that were considered by CNCS: the College of Engineering’s Village Empowerment Program; Bring Diversity to Nursing, a program of the School of Health and Environment; and the Department of Music’s Community Outreach and Service programs, part of the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. The popular Alternative Spring Break program also boosted the University's hours.

This honor – along with separate recognition as a community-engaged university from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching – underscores UMass Lowell’s commitment to applying knowledge for the public good and supporting the development of community through teaching, research, scholarship and engagement.

‘Reach Out River Hawks’ Takes Flight

Adding to the community service activities on campus, the recently formed Reach Out River Hawks program provides volunteer opportunities to staff and students. 

“Reach Out River Hawks is designed to connect students to the Lowell and regional community to provide service activities for anyone who wants to donate his or her time,” says Amy Liss, associate director of the Office of Student Activities and Leadership, which houses the program. “We make an effort to respond to community needs, and will continue to grow the program in the future.” 

Sokny Long, an administrative specialist in the department of work environment, coordinates ROR and organizes monthly volunteer opportunities for students as practicum work toward her master’s degree in community social psychology. Long says that the experiences students have in Reach Out River Hawks embody the University’s goal of learning with purpose.

“Each community organization has its needs and participating in service activities has given me the opportunity to learn more about their missions and how UMass Lowell students can be a resource,” says Long. “Often, nonprofits and community organizations do not have the people or funds to move their projects along. Although our students can’t help with funding, we do have the people, the energy and the willingness to assist in community projects.” 

With Long’s help, Reach Out River Hawks has connected nearly 200 students with service opportunities this semester including the Merrimack Valley Heart Walk, a river clean up, and providing assistance at the Lowell Humane Society.

“Community and civic engagement are important parts of building educational excellence, a sense of community, networking, hands-on learning as well as empowerment and leadership,” says Long.

Staff Member Paul Marion’s Career of Service Applauded

Students aren’t the only ones at UMass Lowell supporting their community. Alum Paul Marion, executive director of the Office of Community and Cultural Affairs and lifelong Lowell advocate, recently earned the Thomas G. Kelakos Community Spirit Award from the Greater Lowell Kiwanis Club. Marion’s community support has included working with the Lowell National Historical Park, helping to develop the Lowell Folk Festival, connecting the University to the community and countless projects aimed at building the city’s community and reputation. 

“The concept of community has engaged me intellectually and emotionally since my college days studying political science," Marion said in his acceptance speech at the award ceremony. "I see it as the foundation of the democratic process. If a person does not recognize that his or her interests are connected to the interests of his or her neighbor (near and far), then the system breaks down. Actually, it never coheres. In that scenario, we all become independent contractors who are determined to cut in line in front of the next person. How to make the social glue that sticks us together is the challenge that I’ve grappled with all these years.”

To view Marion’s complete speech, visit Dick Howe’s website.