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Service for those who served

A misty rain falls gently on the graves of veterans in Fort Custer National Cemetery in Augusta, Mich. And though the weather is cold and dreary on this November day, a warmth, sincerity and respect emanates from the group of first-year business students who lean over the headstones, cleaning them.

On Nov. 2, more than 300 first-year students in the Haworth College of Business participated in a common service project with the goal of cleaning 2,000 graves as part of the cemetery's preparations for Veterans Day. The group included all 14 sections of the college's First Year Experience course and the 11 instructors who led students in the project. Staff at the cemetery estimate that the students cleaned close to 5,000 graves.

"The idea for a common service-learning project came about as enrollments in our First Year Experience courses grew," says Dr. Christina Stamper, associate dean of undergraduate programs for the Haworth College of Business. "Service-learning has always been a part of our First Year Experience sections, but we began thinking about how we could structure the experience so that we could have a greater impact and also allow more bonding among first-year students."

Students began their day with learning the history of the cemetery and its purpose before they proceeded with cleaning headstones. "Finding the right service project for more than 300 people to work on was a challenge," says First Year Experience instructor and project co-leader Paul Hildenbrand. "This is an idea that has been growing in the college for the past few years, and I think this was the right project for our students because it was very meaningful. Not only did students learn about the value of community service, but they also had the opportunity to learn more about those who have served our country."

The history involved in this project appealed to fellow First Year Experience instructor and project co-leader Tomika Griffin-Brown. "This project helped students to gain a deeper appreciation for the price that our veterans have paid and to become more informed about the diverse groups who have served throughout multiple generations," Griffin-Brown says.

And the community supported the students who were showing their support for veterans. Kellogg Company provided snacks for the hard-working students. "As soon as Shaughn Coyer, university relations manager at Kellogg, heard about the project and our needs, she jumped right on board and offered up all the snacks they had on hand for our students," says Caroline Ray, career specialist in the Haworth College of Business Career Center and First Year Experience instructor.

Student Reflections

"I thought that this was such a good project. It helped me to learn about the history of this area, and I enjoyed being with the other first-year sections. Service in honor of veterans is very meaningful to me, as my family is full of veterans, so I really know how much it means to the families." – Savanna Everett

"I really enjoyed being in the cemetery and learning more about the history. The atmosphere is special. It is hard to describe." – William Knickerbocker

"It was very meaningful to work in the cemetery and to do it as a team. I feel like I got to know more about my fellow students while also giving back to the community in an important way."
– Emily Gulanczyk

Editor: Cindy Wagner
Haworth College of Business
2100 Schneider Hall
Western Michigan University
Kalamzoo MI 49008-5457 USA
(269) 387-5050 | (269) 387-5797 Fax