Arts & Sciences, Education

Community service prepares students for a lifetime of giving back 

‘For students who want to be change agents and difference makers, community service is an important tool.’

Senior Mia Gleason knew from a young age that volunteering was something she wanted to incorporate into her life. The double major in elementary education and psychology is a program assistant for the 414 Fellows, an AmeriCorps program offered through Marquette University in partnership with Next Door. She volunteers at events, on and off campus.  

“I feel a strong desire to give back to the community that has given so much to me, and I do that through service,” Gleason says.  

Gleason strives to apply the mutual aid model to her acts of service. This model removes any kind of saviorism or power structure and focuses on solidarity. Mutual aid is not charity, but a way for people to help others and fight against unjust power systems. 

“Being involved in service has allowed me to interact with the Milwaukee community in a way I would not have been able to by just staying on Marquette’s campus,” Gleason says, “I am extremely grateful for that opportunity; it has uniquely shaped my college experience.” 

During the 2022-23 school year, the 414 Fellows program completed 5,600 hours of service. Most volunteers work 300 hours annually and many students continue to work with this program post-graduation. 

The benefits of giving back 

For decades, Marquette’s Make a Difference Day has been one of the largest service events on campus. Since 1989, over 34,000 students, faculty, staff and alumni have served with community partners in the city. Last year, more than 600 people volunteered, logging about 1,800 service hours total.  

Jessica Verdejo is the director of the Arrupe Center for Community Service and Social Responsibility and works with numerous student volunteers, like Gleason, and is responsible for ensuring that Marquette’s mission is being served and students can use holistic methods to engage in community-wide social change. 

“Our program assistants are passionate about helping this world and trying to ‘Be The Difference.’ Students learn about the inequalities of our community and beyond. Our center allows them to apply actions to address these issues,” Verdejo says. 

Kelsey Otero, senior director of community engagement, believes that volunteering offers a unique opportunity to get to know your neighborhood. It reveals careers, causes and connections that may not have been discovered in ways outside of service. 

“For students who want to be change agents and difference makers, community service is an important tool to help advance your understanding of systems and organizations,” Otero says.  

Otero’s advice for students searching for ways to give back to the community is to let your passions guide you. There is an abundance of campus resources that can help students get connected with a cause they care about, such as the Arrupe Center. 

For those interested in giving back by volunteering, the annual Marquette Community Day of Service will be held Saturday, April 20, from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in honor of Earth Day. Find more information and register online