Written by: Charlotte Gerstein, Castleton Reference & Instruction Librarian, guest blogger

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Castleton Engaged, held on February 2 in the Campus Center, was energizing and satisfying this year. I am on the Civic Engagement steering committee and a member of the Bridge Initiative so I have been to this event each year since it started in 2014, and had this year’s on my radar for months.  It is always great to see and hear what our community-minded students have been doing out in the field, but this year the format worked so well, and the students were so, well, engaged, it was particularly enjoyable.

The students who presented at the flash panels were amazingly poised, as if they had been doing presentations like this all their lives.  Emma Blaiklock, in a new “Service House” t-shirt, kicked off the flash panel and shared what’s been going on at “Service House” where she is the Community Advisor, like a community dinner celebrating international students and lots of volunteering.  Emma is one of the most engaged students on our campus and will be a dynamo and an asset to her future employers and community.

Tegan Waite shared her experience traveling to Kenya and fundraising stateside to support a nonprofit called HEAL Kenya.  She clearly had a life-transforming experience visiting a HEAL site in Kenya last summer. While engaging with this worthwhile cause as a student she is practicing leadership skills and caring citizenship that she will bring to any future endeavors.

Abigail Hackman shared her pilot project composting food waste from the dining hall. Zoey St. Denis shared her experience with a voter registration drive, explaining why it’s needed and why she cares so much. Amanda Clement shared a project called “Improving Biodiversity Consciousness Using Environmentally Sustainable Practices.” Kelly Mesler and Molly Perkins shared their experience starting a tutoring program for area children as part of a civic engagement psychology course. Patrick Cote-Abel and James Britt shared how they learned about, and wanted to do what they could to help with, the plight of Syrian refugees.  One action they took was to put on a Middle Eastern dinner as a fundraiser.

After the panels, the audience was free to partake of appetizers, and wander and talk to other students at tables around the room with various visuals to share about their community engagement experiences. Senior Matt Gay was obviously engaged and knowledgeable about his project.  He has been the SOS for Bill Kuehn’s FYS class for the three years since he was one of its students.  This class takes on a project to clean up an illegal dumping site just over the border in New York. He had a great story about catching one illegal dumper whose W2 form was among the garbage he dumped. The police were able to locate the man and fine him for this crime.  The class and the professor have been lucky to have such an engaged SOS, and Matt has benefited from this leadership opportunity and an opportunity to learn a lot about this problem and possible solutions.

Another enthusiastic and prepared senior was Karsen Woods who started a student organization supporting Planned Parenthood and educating the campus about its work. She seems ready to step right out of Castleton into a career in this work. She is hoping another student will take over leadership of this group when she graduates. Students from Megan Blossom’s psychology civic engagement course had several projects to share. First year student Reilly Knipes was passionate as she shared the research she did as part of her First Year Seminar, on race and incarceration in Vermont and nationally.  She was prepared with a Powerpoint presentation on her computer. Kat Haseltine shared about a workshop she put on with the Academic Support Center about financial literacy modelled after the Game of Life board game. Super-senior Zachary Hampl had a poster about the Brough pond project.  Several students and professors are working to get support to clean up Brough Pond, behind the North, South and Audet houses, to beautify it and make it safer and a valuable community space.

The community partner award, presented by Director of Community Engagement Chrispin White, this year went to Meals on Wheels and we were treated to a short history and anecdotes about the relationship of Castleton to Meals on Wheels by retired Academic Dean Joe Mark.  Meals are delivered three days/week, so the program always needs more volunteers. Contact Penny Jones at 775-0133 if you are interested in volunteering, or talk to Chrispin White or me to learn more about the program.

The Civic Engagement steering committee is lead by Dean of Special Academic Programs Ingrid Johnston who, with Chrispin White, headed up this successful event.  I am always very grateful for their leadership and promotion of these opportunities for students, and providing this chance for the campus community to learn about their work.  It is interesting to learn about all these projects, to think about community needs and the ways our campus community can help and is helping, but I especially like to see how these experiences have enriched our students.  The confidence and knowledge they gain is visible, and makes it easy to see these particular students (or any who get as involved as they have) stepping right out into the work world (and their roles in their communities as adults) with valuable, marketable skills, not the least of which are enthusiasm, a sense of agency, and effective communication.

Verdict:  Castleton Engaged 2017 was particularly engaging and our students rock!