Some 490 first-year Davidson students joined the Saturday morning buzz in downtown Davidson as they completed the annual Orientation Service Walk. More than 50 volunteer faculty and staff members led groups of students on the 5K walk, an event sponsored by the college's Center for Civic Engagement to introduce students to the community and opportunities for involvement.
"Davidson has such a strong ethic for service," said Stacey Reimer, director of civic engagement and assistant dean of students, "and because orientation is supposed to introduce the values and resources of the college, having the service walk as a cornerstone event is really important. Davidson has a relationship with the community like no other school I've seen, and first-year students should experience that."
The Center for Civic Engagement developed the walk nine years ago as a way to involve a large number of students in a service project. In recent years, the center has incorporated information cards at each stop with facts about the sites and added a fundraising component.
Each year the center selects one community organization or initiative as a beneficiary of walk funds. "We make sure that the walk props up an issue related to a specific community need," said Reimer.
This year, the center chose to highlight Eliminating the Digital Divide (E2D), which supports local digital literacy through collaboration within the community. Founded by Davidson alumni Eileen Keeley '89 and Pat Millen '86 and their daughter, Franny, E2D involves members of the town, the Ada Jenkins Center, alumni, and students in providing low-income families with computers and computer training.
"Because it's collaborative and is attacking an issue in a range of ways, E2D was a good candidate as a beneficiary for the walk," said Reimer.
Kyle Goodfellow, program coordinator and organizer of the walk, emphasized that supporting E2D differs from past service walk initiatives. Students not only raised money by pledging $3 per kilometer, but also donated computers. The walk raised more than $4,700 raised for E2D. "The cool thing about the E2D initiative is that they put it into tangible terms... $323 provides a computer and a year of Internet for a family in the community," added Goodfellow.
Although each walk focuses on one cause, many other community needs, organizations, and efforts are spotlighted along the route. History and civic engagement are intertwined as students learn about locations that have been repurposed to better serve the community in environmental, medical, educational, and economical sectors.
"I never would have thought to volunteer at the community garden, but now I know it's there and I'm interested in it," commented SeungGon Yoo '17.
In addition to learning about diverse volunteer opportunities, student walkers meet classmates, faculty members, and staff members. The walk has academic merits as well, said Craig Milberg, assistant director of discovery systems in the E.H. Little Library, who has led groups of students for years. Because local history is a theme of the walk, he makes a point to inform students about the college archives, which are housed in the library and serve as a great resource for student research.
Professor of Anthropology Fuji Lozada participates as a service walk leader in order to meet students, and to show them that faculty members are approachable. He entertains students throughout the walk and buys them honey sticks at the famer's market, but also maintains enough distance to facilitate conversation among the students, he said. Above all, he sees the walk as a learning experience.
"Academics is not just about reading something," Lozada told students in his group. "True academics involves your ability to apply something. And so all we're trying to do is get you to look at the world around you and to think."
For Lozada, the key moment of the day occurs prior to the walk when a student speaks about a topic relevant to civic engagement. "That presentation to me is pivotal," Lozada said. "It shows students the potential they have to do great things."
This year's speaker was Joe Morrison '14, founder and CEO of a social venture called "PAX Backpacks." Morrison explained that the enterprise raises money for community partners, working to close the "achievement gap" by closing the "opportunity gap."
Morrison emphasized the importance of living up to the Davidson mission to foster leadership and service. "The only way to embody the Davidson ideal is to incorporate service into the very core of your identity, not to treat it like a chore," said Morrison.
Reimer said Morrison exemplifies the power of an idea. "Both E2D and PAX Backpacks were created by students who observed something that's not quite right, and were inspired to make change," she said. "Davidson aims to foster in students that same awareness that leads to action, and the service walk is the first step - or steps! It shows students how relationships and community provide the foundation for change and a new worldview."