By Caroline Guy, TWC Media Intern from Baldwin Wallace University
Don’t let the title “academic seminar” fool you. Students are getting more than just a traditional education from The Washington Center’s Inauguration ‘17 seminar.
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, students left The Washington Center’s Residential Facility behind and ventured off into several parts of Washington D.C. to serve the community they’ve called home for the past week. Students were able to choose from different organizations; some worked with City Year and heard from the mayor; some students made sandwiches for the homeless; and others went out to work with different conservancies.
One group of students worked with the National Park Service and Rock Creek Conservancy to clean up Soapstone Creek.
This creek is part of the stream system that feeds into Rock Creek. It’s at the highest point in D.C. and right behind a high school, making it a small but crucial piece of land to conserve. Rock Creek Conservancy has been working on Soapstone Creek for about three years, trying to remove invasive and non-native species that blanket and kill trees or other wildlife.
Students had a role cleaning up the creek by picking up trash; others raked up the invasive plants; and still others dug trenches to plant wildflowers.
BriAnna McCorkle from Abilene Christian University was one person who signed up in part so she could meet different students from the TWC seminar and from around the nation’s capital.
When she signed up, she noticed that there was a smaller group of students going, which provided her an opportunity to get to know more people from other schools.
Other people signed up to go to Rock Creek because they had experience with this kind of work. Allison Edwards from Arkansas Tech University does similar work picking up trash in Arkansas.
When asked why she continues to do this kind of volunteer work, she explained, “This is a way for us to preserve the city for generations to come so everyone can enjoy it.”
Faculty member Andrew Green from Central College also signed up because he has previous experience.
“I’ve done invasive species work for our service day at our college and I like to be outside to do these types of projects,” he said. “So it seemed like a good choice for me.”
Why are students who came to an academic seminar to learn about how to elevate political discourse helping a city none of them calls home?
“We didn’t just come here to learn. It’s to also take what you learn and give it back to the community because not everyone had the opportunity to come here,” Edwards said. “So being able to just come here and learn in D.C. and give back by helping pick up trash, even though it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, it is.”
Green believes that these service projects showed students that being an active citizen is not just showing up to party meetings and getting involved with local politics or newspapers, like they’ve heard from speakers for the last week. It’s about being involved in every aspect of the community.
“It’s teaching students that part of our responsibility as citizens is to help the community and do good work in the community and this gives us all an opportunity to do that,” he said.
Whatever the reason students signed up for their various service projects, it’s is clear that it is providing a different type of education and rounding out their experience. Students headed into their second week of academics with a better understanding of the city they are in. This day spent in the cold or in schools or with small organizations was beneficial and helped students take the term “active citizen” to a whole new level.