Washburn Engage brings power to the people

Washburn Engage is an innovative and interactive system recently unveiled on campus to put students in touch with community service opportunities on and off campus, beyond that, the program has the potential to place the powers of change into student’s hands.

The 42-inch touchscreen, now located on the ground floor of the Mabee Library, gives students who are looking for volunteer and community service opportunities a direct link to agencies and organizations around Topeka in need of help.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Topeka, the YWCA and Helping Hands Humane Society are only a few of the local agencies who have opened their doors to volunteers via the Washburn Engage program, with more coming in the near future. 

With the simple swipe of a screen students can find, preview and sign up for these openings. 

Rick Ellis, director of Washburn’s Learning in the Community program, sees a wealth of possibilities in the marriage of modern technology and a traditional sense of altruism. The biggest benefit as Ellis sees it, is that Washburn Engage could be a catalyst for change on campus and in the community.

“My theory is that there are two ways that things can change in a university,” said Ellis. “Some faculty members can push to change the curriculum or the students can push to make that change. I always lean toward students having the power.”

While that sentiment might sound like leftovers from the activism-laden days of the ‘60s, an era and mindset which Ellis proudly associates himself with Ellis insists on keeping it alive and well.

“Even if students don’t realize they have the power, I’m going to teach them they have the power,” said Ellis. “I think students can make an impact on the university.”

Can volunteer work really make a difference in the way Washburn operates? Ellis insists that it can.

“You’re in a sociology class and the professor is talking the poverty rate,” said Ellise. “At the same time you’re working at Let’s Help and think, ‘I’m seeing this every day at work and what that guy is saying about how to change this isn’t going to work.’”

It’s that real world experience, Ellis insists, that will allow the student to return to class and discuss what they have seen work,  and share that knowledge with peers and professors in the hopes that a new approach, starting in the classroom, might be taken.  

“We really want students to get in and engaged, which we think can transform the population’s thinking on this campus.” said Ellis.

If the thought of being the spark that lights bigger and brighter fires for future Ichabods isn’t enough to get students “engaged,” perhaps future job prospects will.

According to Ellis, numerous studies have shown regular community service, coupled with peer reflection, is the biggest contributor to post-graduation community involvement. However, Ellis stresses that service isn’t all about sunshine and spreading good cheers. Students are often expected to get their hands dirty.

“Service is about attacking issues, making change and making people’s lives better,” said Ellis. “It’s a much more thoughtful thing than just feeling good.”

Students and local agencies interested in taking part in Washburn Engage are encouraged to stop by the library or visit www.washburnengage.com