Students heeded call to service in wake of 9/11, study says

With the hood of her pink sweatshirt tied tightly around her head, Megan McGovern, a 19 year-old student at the University of Maryland, sits behind a folding table urging students to donate blood as the temperature slowly creeps towards 50.

In the past, college students partied all night, slept late and would rarely be seen sitting in the cold at 9 am volunteering to help sign up blood donors.

But since the attacks of Sept. 11, this stereotype is fading into history.

From tighter border control in the Southwest to tighter baggage control in airports, reactions to Sept. 11 are seen in everyday life.

But not all changes are defensive. Members of generation Y, most of high school age at the time of the attack, are channeling their reactions through positive change in their communities and the world by volunteering.

“One bright spot coming out of the 9/11 tragedy is a surge of interest by college students in serving their community,” said Steve Goldsmith, the Chairman of the Board of the Corporation in a statement released by the Corporation.

A study following the volunteer activities of this generation found that between 2002 and 2005, college student volunteers increased 20 percent, or by 600,000 students up to a total of 3.3 million, while adult volunteers only increased half as much.

The same study reports that college students are twice as likely to volunteer as people the same age who are not enrolled in an institution of higher education.

The “College Students Helping America” report released by the federal Corporation for National and Community Service on Oct. 16, shows a strong possibility of reaching the national goal of five million college student volunteers by 2010.

“Higher education is a powerful engine of civic engagement and we are committed to working with university and student organizations and the larger nonprofit sector to nurture this growing civic generation,” Goldsmith said.

From the Civilian Conservation Corps created by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933 to John F. Kennedy’s still-thriving Peace Corps in 1961, government interest in teaching students civic mindedness began well before 9/11.

In 1997 Congress appropriated funds for the Presidential Freedom Scholarship Program, which recognizes outstanding civic-minded junior and senior high school students with the hope that their service will carry through to their college years.

In 2005 universities received financial support from the government for aiding communities affected by Katrina through the Universities Rebuilding America Partnership Program.

“College students, with their idealism and energy, are among the most effective and enthusiastic of all volunteers,” said Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development Alfonso Jackson when he launched the program at Louisana State University.

While the Corporation found that tutoring and mentoring are among the most common types of volunteer work done by college students, Duncan Remage-Healey of Habitat for Humanity in the Boston area finds fund-raising to be one of college students’ major strengths as well.

“Northeastern sends groups and interns, Harvard is active as well and raises money for international trips,” he said, adding that many of the schools have waiting lists for their spring and winter breaks to go on Habitat work-trips.

Habitat International has refocused on college chapters because of the rising interest and involvement, he said.

In turn, the leadership of the student chapters looks to recruit from all classes in order to continue a strong program after members graduate.

Remage-Healey noted a focus of his Habitat chapter is on high school students in the hopes that they continue their work on into college and beyond.

McGovern participated in Key Club in high school before joining Donors of Life in college. She hopes to continue her volunteer work after she graduates too.

It looks like the work of the government, groups like Habitat and high schools is paying off.

A 2005 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded college graduates logging the most volunteer hours per year when compared to those 25 years and older who did not hold a four-year degree.

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