UM a community of givers

In the 10 months since I moved to Montevallo, I have been impressed with the degree to which our students and community members live outside their own pleasures.

Last fall, members of the Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity at the University of Montevallo went door-do-door in the Montevallo community, dropping off empty grocery bags, along with a letter asking people to donate food for a local charity. The overwhelming community response allowed the group to donate 27,232 pounds of non-perishable food to Shelby Emergency Assistance, Inc. (SEA) in Montevallo, an organization that helps those in need.

A few weeks ago, a group of 11 university students elected to take an alternative spring break to Greensboro. The focus of their trip, which was sponsored by Hero of Hale County and organized by the University of Montevallo’s new Office of Service Learning and Community Engagement, was to assist in the renovation of the Martin Stewart schoolhouse. The 100-year-old building was relocated from Stewart and is now housed on the campus of Project Hero, where it will become a multi-purpose building for the community, providing space for GED preparation, job training and more.

On the heels of spring break, Saturday, March 26, nearly 400 UM students volunteered their time for The Big Event. They were divided into groups and sent to an assignment at one of 32 job sites in Montevallo and the surrounding area. Students assisted with landscaping maintenance, building flower beds, planting, painting, organizing a store, cleaning out a basement and serving as parking and booth attendants and more for the FFA Farm Day event that was occurring that same day in Montevallo.

These serve as snapshots of plenary good works executed from our campus each day. As our nation works to produce a generation of givers, the university is purposefully introducing service learning ­­— defined as a teaching and learning method that combines service objectives and learning objectives with the focus on promoting a deeper understanding of course content through real-world experiences that positively impact the community — into its curriculum.

The 2011 edition of “America’s Best Colleges,” published by U.S. News & World Report, ranks Montevallo as the top public master’s-level university in Alabama. In addition, UM has been listed by the publication as the 15th best public university in the South in its division.

As the university’s president, I am deeply proud of our traditions of academic excellence, but even more humbled by the depth of social responsibility exhibited by our students, faculty and staff. It is gratifying to live and work in such a family of learners and, more broadly, in a community that is at once tolerant and kindhearted.

Dr. John W. Stewart III is president of the University of Montevallo.